June 24, 2018

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Festival adds a little culture with first-ever cheese-carving competition

PHOTOS BY JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p> Paul Frenette from Ontario adds some touches to his sculpture during the cheese-carving competition at the Festival du Voyageur Sunday.</p>

PHOTOS BY JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Paul Frenette from Ontario adds some touches to his sculpture during the cheese-carving competition at the Festival du Voyageur Sunday.

Winnipeggers know to expect sculptures at Festival du Voyageur, but they're usually carved out of snow, ice, or wood.

This year, some of Festival's sculptors tackled a new medium: aged white cheddar cheese.

The first-ever cheese-carving competition at the annual winter festival took place Sunday, and featured six artists carving 40-pound blocks of Bothwell cheese in front of a crowd of spectators.

Each two-year-old block of cheese would retail for "well over $500," said Jean-Marc Champagne, who works in marketing at Bothwell. The winning cheese sculpture, Champagne said, will hopefully be preserved in a Bothwell cheese shop that's slated to open on Provencher Boulevard this spring.

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Winnipeggers know to expect sculptures at Festival du Voyageur, but they're usually carved out of snow, ice, or wood.

This year, some of Festival's sculptors tackled a new medium: aged white cheddar cheese.

The first-ever cheese-carving competition at the annual winter festival took place Sunday, and featured six artists carving 40-pound blocks of Bothwell cheese in front of a crowd of spectators.

Each two-year-old block of cheese would retail for "well over $500," said Jean-Marc Champagne, who works in marketing at Bothwell. The winning cheese sculpture, Champagne said, will hopefully be preserved in a Bothwell cheese shop that's slated to open on Provencher Boulevard this spring.

"We'd like to get it lacquered, we're talking to a few different people to see how we can preserve it long-term," said Champagne.

The winner will have their name "eternally etched on the Bothwell cheese-carving trophy," added Champagne, plus a $500 cash prize and "bragging rights, obviously."

The cheese carvers, drawn from Festival's contingent of snow and wood carvers, said sculpting cheddar is a far cry from working with more traditional materials.

Lyle Peters (left) of Steinbach, and Neil Fogg work on their sculptures.</p>

Lyle Peters (left) of Steinbach, and Neil Fogg work on their sculptures.

Sculptor Ton Kalle of the Netherlands said he usually works in granite. Compared to that, he said, carving cheese was "a kind of holiday."

On Sunday, Kalle was carving a pair of traditional Dutch clogs, but said it was "difficult to find the technique" required to avoid cracks.

"So maybe I'll end up with a crack in the wooden shoe, I don't know," said Kalle, a self-described cheese aficionado who happily admitted to snacking on the excess material from his sculpture.

Theressa Wright of Saskatchewan also said she had eaten "her fair share" of cheddar as she worked on her sculpture, which she described as "a little girl or boy with their puppy leaning up to give them a kiss."

Wright, who works as an art teacher, said sculpting with cheese is "softer and crumblier" than other materials.

"You've got to go slow, or too much comes off," she said.

Paul Frenette of Ontario, who usually carves wood using chainsaws, also found cheese a challenging material to sculpt.

"Wood has a grain to it, so you can follow the grain, you know what it's going to do, which way to cut it," he said.

Saskatchewan competitor Theressa Wright has eaten her fair share of the cheddar during the competition.</p>

Saskatchewan competitor Theressa Wright has eaten her fair share of the cheddar during the competition.

"With the cheese there's clumps of cheese, so you cut one way and if you go too far it'll start falling apart, so then you've got to cut the other way."

"As good as it tastes, after carving it, you might not want to eat it for a little bit," added Frenette as he worked at carving a woodland deity. "But it sure is good cheese."

Franzi Agrawal, an industrial designer from Germany who creates art installations made of snow, ice, and wood, said working with cheese was "different than what I actually expected."

Agrawal said her initial idea to sculpt a chain didn't quite work out as planned.

"I just made some new ideas. Maybe I'll do an Emmental out of the cheddar."

Unlike her competitors, Agrawal said she hadn't tasted any of the trimmings left over from her artwork.

"I'm vegan," she said.

solomon.israel@freepress.mb.ca

@sol_israel

Solomon Israel

Solomon Israel
Cannabis reporter

Solomon Israel grew up in Boston, the son of two native Winnipeggers.

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