A 4,000-pound block of cheese drew members of the East Meadow community to Stew Leonard’s on Front Street last weekend as a woman carved into it a smiling boy, a cow and the supermarket’s customer-service policy, which reads, “Rule 1: The customer is always right. Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1!”
The sculpture, created by Wisconsin artist Sarah Kaufmann over the course of three days, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, weighed in at 3,462 pounds when it was finished, and will be recognized as the world’s largest cheese sculpture if it is certified by the “Guinness Book of World Records.”
“We deal with a lot of cheese here at Stew’s,” said Nat Zappia, the supermarket’s director of support, explaining that Kaufmann is well known in the cheese- carving world, having created soured-mile-curd sculptures at the supermarket chain’s Farmingdale and East Meadow openings in 2015 and 2017.
She set a world record in 2011, carving a 925-pound cheese roller coaster at the Wisconsin State Fair. Four years later, however, the mark was broken by The Melt, in Hollywood, Calif., where artist Troy Landwehr carved a 1,524-pound sculpture of a cheeseburger.
Since then, the Stew Leonard’s team has encouraged Kaufmann to re-claim the title at one of its supermarkets. “They’ve been trying to do this for years now,” said Kathy Pryor, a cheese specialist in the East Meadow store, explaining that owner Stew Leonard Jr. agreed on the East Meadow location because it was the chain’s newest, and he believed they could count on the community to get involved.
“It’s very impressive what they’re doing over there,” Anthony Sereno, executive secretary of the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce, last Thursday morning, when Kauffman began carving.
To qualify for official recognition by Guinness, competitors must have “witnesses” observe their efforts. Sereno was one of many, along with other members of the chamber, Stew Leonard employees, Leonard himself and other curious East Meadow residents.
From Thursday morning to Saturday morning, they watched the artist shave 538 pounds off the huge block of Mammoth Cheddar provided by Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese. In order to qualify for the record, the sculpture must be made of a single block. The scraps were made into grilled cheese sandwiches that were handed out free to store customers.
“We’ve been to Wisconsin a number of times to see their cheese producers,” Leonard said of the company. “They’re a family business just like us, so it seemed like a perfect fit.”
Leonard’s grandfather Charles Leo Leonard started Clover Farms Dairy in Norwalk, Conn., in the early 1920s. In 1969, his son Stew converted it into a retail dairy store named Stew Leonard’s. In 1987, Stew Jr. took the reins of what eventually expanded into a six-store chain in Connecticut and New York.
Kaufmann wasn’t always the cheese aficionado that she is today. She came from an artsy family, she said, and recalled constantly drawing as a child. After art school, she worked as a graphic artist for the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, which first asked her to carve a cheese sculpture for them 22 years ago, and, she said, “I’ve been carving ever since.”
She said she intended to add color to the images she carved — the eyes of the cow, the smiling boy and the milk bottles that the store is known for — using white cheese melted into a paint. Store officials planned to keep the sculpture refrigerated before it was displayed in Stew Leonard’s Farmingdale location.