Allen Hendricks’ work doesn’t appear in any museum despite being one of the world’s most renowned sculptors. The Madison carves cheese – and that doesn’t cut it in high-brow art circles.
His canvas often is a block of Cheddar weighing up to 700 pounds. Discarded scraps from his pieces have become nacho toppings or grilled sandwiches.
Yet he’s carved the Leaning Tower of Pisa out of provolone; created a ’57 Chevy from Cheddar; and made a cheese cheesehead.
Since 1986, Hendricks, 36, has been the Picasso of Parmesan. As part of his one-person food marketing business, A.H.M. Resources Inc., he has carved more than 400 cheese pieces ranging from Mount Rushmore to Mickey Mouse.
The latter piece, presented to Mickey at Disney World without a trace of irony, posed a daunting task to complete.
“I had to make the neck bigger so his ears would stay on,” Hendricks said.
Since much of Hendricks’ work has limited shelf life, you’re unlikely to see his surfing cow cheese sculpture in person unless you attend, say, dairy trade shows or wine auctions.
But Hendricks’ cheese carvings receive a large slice of attention. Hired by everyone from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board to the publication Cheese Market News, Hendricks does carvings for media events and advertising campaigns.
For instance, Hendricks’ multilayered wedding cake carved from Swiss cheese appeared in Newsweek magazine recently as an American Dairy Marketing ad.
Although many companies hire him to put their logos in cheese, Hendricks also has done oddball carvings, including the bust of a former governor for the Iowa State Fair, telephones, a Victorian home and a treasure chest “with cheese curd pearls,” he said.
Before the Packers’ 1998 Super Bowl appearance, Kraft Foods had him carve a 600-pound cheese Lombardi Trophy for the team. The piece appeared in newspapers and on TV newscasts nationwide.
“Probably Kraft’s least expensive national advertising campaign,” Hendricks said.
A chef by trade, Hendricks created his first cheese carving, an eagle, to attract attention to the cheese counter at a 1986 farmers’ market in Colorado, where he lived at the time.
Word of mouth built his carving business, and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board hired him to carve a cheese replica of the USS Wisconsin before the battleship was rechristened in 1988.
“Allen does exceptional work,” said Andrea Neu, corporate communications head for Madison-based Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
Hendricks creates many of the cheese carvings in the kitchen of his Madison home. Some take a few hours; others – such as Mount Rushmore for a California cheese company promoting its “monumental taste” – require more than four days.
He called the carving aspect of his business “relatively lucrative.” Still, there are only a half-dozen cheese carvers nationally, he said.
“If you can draw a sketch,” Hendricks added, “you can probably carve cheese.”
Cheddar is his carving cheese of choice.
“It has a texture almost like oil clay,” he said. “You can’t mold it, but you can sculpt it.”
He has been unable to complete only one request: a three-dimensional cow, standing on four legs.
“The legs wouldn’t hold the weight,” Hendricks said.
Asked what he’d like to carve from cheese someday, he said a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
“It would be the best way to combine two of Wisconsin’s biggest exports.”