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‘I didn’t choose the cheese life, the cheese life chose me’

Creston native helps turn dairy product into a Dan Gable tribute piece

Tyler Coenen has been involved in the cheese industry since 2015 and has found new ways to embrace his craft. During the carving event this past weekend at the Hy-Vee located on North Ankeny Boulevard in Ankeny, Coenen carved the design of Iowa State University mascot Cy.
Tyler Coenen has been involved in the cheese industry since 2015 and has found new ways to embrace his craft. During the carving event this past weekend at the Hy-Vee located on North Ankeny Boulevard in Ankeny, Coenen carved the design of Iowa State University mascot Cy.

It may be considered impolite to play with your food, but there’s never been a rule against making art out of it.

Creston native Tyler Coenen helped create a cheese sculpture of Iowa wrestling legend Dan Gable as part of an event at the North Ankeny Boulevard Hy-Vee this past weekend in Ankeny.

Coenen has been a specialist in the cheese industry since March of 2015, starting his career at Scardello Artisan Cheese in Dallas, Texas, where he gained an immediate interest in cheesemaking.

“I didn’t choose the cheese life,” said Coenen. “The cheese life chose me.”

He proceeded to move to New York to be a cheesemaking intern at Nettle Meadow Artisan Cheese and became a nationally certified cheese professional. He then returned to Iowa, living in Ankeny and began working at Hy-Vee as a cheese specialist at the North Ankeny Boulevard location.

“I’ve pretty much seen everything as far as the cheese industry goes, but my job here I just try to be as creative as possible. I have some pretty good relationships going with some of the different cheese makers, especially Hennings, who is the one that I collaborated with and made this 3,000 pound wheel of cheese for the carving event.”

The 3,000 pound cheese wheel used to make the Dan Gable sculpture was made in January. In 2018, Coenen had partnered with Hennings to make a 2,000 pound wheel of cheese.

“You know how it goes, I got to one up the last event,” said Coenen.

After completing the most recent cheese wheel, Coenen enlisted the help of Sarah “The Cheese Lady” Kaufmann, a world record winning cheese carver, to make a sculpture in tribute to legendary Iowa wrestler and coach Dan Gable.

Dan Gable is a native Iowan who was a two-time Division I wrestling champion for Iowa State and went on to win a gold medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics, among many other accolades. From 1976 to 1997, Gable was wrestling coach for the University of Iowa, leading the school to many championships.

“We were thinking about who we could carve and it was just kind of a natural fit that he would be the one that we feature,” Coenen said. “Everybody knows Dan Gable in this state and we are just getting into wrestling season and it just kinda worked. It was the perfect fit.”

Once Kaufmann arrived to Ankeny she, Coenen and his supervisor Julie Anderson displayed the cheese wheel on the sales floor and began to carve the sculpture.

“I was more prepping the wheel,” said Coenen. “We cut off a very large chunk, probably 500 pounds, off the backside so we could cut, wrap, and sell pieces of the wheel as she was carving it.”

For every pound of cheese sold from the wheel, a dollar goes to The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Gable’s hometown of Waterloo.

“We wanted there to be a nice kickback for him to show him support,” said Coenen.

During the carving of the wheel, Coenen dubbed himself ‘the digger’, focusing his efforts on carving out larger chunks of cheese so Kaufmann could carve the sculpture while also detailing some of the scupture itself.

“I carved a little bit on Cy,” said Coenen, referring to the Iowa State Cyclones mascot carved on the bottom left of the wheel. “Sarah just kinda put me on the spot and told me ‘have fun, this is your show.’”

The carving took four days to complete, starting last Thursday and finishing on Sunday. With this being a public experience in an open setting, Coenen said that set this event out from other well known food sculptures.

“With a cheese wheel that size it can actually sit out of refrigeration for a while,” said Coenen. “We were able to interact with customers, and when you think about the butter cow that’s strictly in refrigeration so you don’t have that,” said Coenen.

Coenen says the event was well received and that customers have shown great interest in the project. There are talks of putting in back on display this weekend but there would need to be more of the wheel cut off. Coenen hopes the feedback can lead to more activities to showcase his devotion to his craft.

“I look for fun and exciting ways to show off my passion for cheese,” said Coenen. “I knew if we could get the Cheese Lady in the store it would be a unique event that customers in this area haven’t seen anything like this before.”

Coenen intends to find more ways he can push the boundaries of what being a cheese maker means. Currently, cheese cut from the wheel is still on sale at Hy-Vee, North Ankeny Boulevard in Ankeny.

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