Most of us know cheese as a tasty, healthy snack, but Troy Landwehr takes this calcium-rich food to a whole new level. A professional cheese sculptor, Troy has carved over 250 masterpieces, including a replica of Mount Rushmore weighing over 600 pounds! This July 4, he'll unveil his latest and greatest (and secret) creation in New York City in honor of the holiday. Troy tells us about his line of work, one cheesy detail at a time.
Parent & Child: How did you get into this unique line of work? Why cheese?
Troy Landwehr: I started carving cheese for The Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival in Little Chute, Wisconsin, when I was 12 years old. The festival board was looking for younger kids to carve with the professionals. The 4-H club that I belonged to had a sign-up sheet going for anyone interested in learning to carve cheese so I signed up. We went to a local cheese factory where I got a one-hour lesson from a professional carver and learned the best tools to use for cheese carving.
P&C: What is the first thing you carved?
Landwehr: The first carving I created was the Batman symbol. The first one I made for a competition was the "Milk Does A Body Good" slogan with a dancing cow.
P&C: What kinds of cheese sculptures have you done in the past? What was your favorite?
Landwehr: I have carved Mt. Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, and Ratatouille's Remy, but carving animals is probably one of my favorite things. The hardest carvings to create are human faces because we all see each other differently. Over the years I have carved for a variety of company functions, weddings, and parties, but it has only been during the past few years that I have been doing larger carvings and working for national and international companies.
P&C: With what kinds of cheese do you sculpt?
Landwehr: Young cheddar cheese has just the right amount of oil and butterfat content and works best for sculpting. Cheddar also has the right consistency — not too soft and not too hard. Too soft of a cheese would not stand up and would lose its shape. Too hard of a cheese would flake and crack apart. The best tools for carving cheese are pottery tools, knives and piano wire.
P&C: What happens to your sculptures when you're done with them? Do they get eaten?
Landwehr: Yes — guests and spectators do eat the cheese sculptures. First, all the scraps that get carved off during the sculpting process are cubed up or shredded and placed in front of the sculpture for people to eat and enjoy. After the scraps are gone, people typically cut the carving up and serve the rest of the cheese. A cheese carving is no different than a wedding cake.
P&C: Have you ever tried carving other kinds of food?
Landwehr: I have carved watermelons for parties and pumpkins for Halloween.
P&C: Do you encourage kids to play with their food? Why or why not?
Landwehr: I think "playing" with food — and by that I mean touching it, smelling it, tasting it, and really examining it — is extremely important for kids. Food is art just like anything else and to really learn about it you need to play with it! It gets kids to think outside the box and gets their creative juices flowing — something that is important for all of us. Playing with food allows the participant to have a full sensual experience that is extremely unique from other art forms but just as important.
P&C: What kinds of cheese crafts can parents and kids do at home?
Landwehr: Carving, of course! Soft clay or soap is a good place to start — it's the closest medium to cheese.
P&C: What's your message to kids?
Landwehr: Always try to pursue your passion and see where it will take you. I started carving as a hobby, but it has taken me around the world. I have carved in Hong Kong for the Chinese New Year and in London for the Disney DVD release of Ratatouille. I have carved all over the United States for store openings and have appeared on several TV shows, such as "Late Night With David Letterman," "The Early Morning Show," and "Fox and Friends."