Creating Art Out of Cheese

Designers Vadim Prokofiev and David Kornaev control the growth of mold to create intricate patterns.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Dafna Arad
Dafna Arad

What can be done with a hunk of cheese, long-forgotten in the back of the refrigerator and now sporting a coat of blue fur? Industrial designers Vadim Prokofiev and David Kornaev turned it into a design project.

The two, who met as undergraduates at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, initially set out to cooperate on a project having to do with tattoos.

“In tattooing, one material is forced into another, ink is injected into the skin. But after consideration we replaced the ink with a different material, mold,” explains Prokofiev, 33. “Unlike a tattoo, which penetrates the skin and remains in it as it is, mold is a living creature, and that’s what interested us,” he says, adding, “In food design there’s a genre that harnesses nature to product design. In this kind of work you can never be sure what the final result will look like,” he says.

The pair’s cheese designs were included in a recent exhibition at the school. Many visitors wondered whether their cheeses were tasty, or perhaps dangerous to eat.

“We’re neither cheese makers nor chefs, we’re industrial designers, says Kornaev, 30. “The process was similar to the way Vadim develops a patio chair for Keter Plastic,” referring to the Israeli manufacturer of resin-based outdoor furniture and housewares. “We simply don’t know other methods. A food designer is someone who works with food, without understanding anything about cooking. I think that was our motto in this project. It released us from the pressure of making something that had to taste good and be nutritious.”

Both cheese making and tattooing are ancient crafts, Kornaev says. “I know the traditional cheese making process from home. I immigrated from the Caucasus in 1993. Back there everyone made their own cheese, my mother included. I mainly ate it. Today she has two cheese shops in Sderot, and I grew to love good cheeses,” he says.

Prokofiev and Kornaev began by injecting mold into cheese, the way a tattoo artist injects ink into the skin, and letting it grow. “But the mold simply spread over everything. Mold is a living creature that needs oxygen and water. Where it has no oxygen and moisture, it doesn’t grow. So we turned to masking,” Kornaev explains. “If you define and mask the areas where you don’t want the mold to grow, it doesn’t go near them. When you know its characteristics it becomes easy.”

One of the cheeses shown in the exhibition.
The cheeses shown in the exhibition.
The cheeses shown in the exhibition.
6 of 6 |
One of the cheeses shown in the exhibition.Credit: Vadim Prokofiev and David Kornaev
1 of 6 |
The cheeses shown in the exhibition. Credit: Vadim Prokofiev and David Kornaev
2 of 6 |
The cheeses shown in the exhibition. Credit: Vadim Prokofiev and David Kornaev

They say visitors to their laboratory were astonished by the intense stench of the mold. “We got used to it. People didn’t believe we lived like that. It smells like a hundred dirty socks that haven’t been washed for a year. But I had fun, the mold grew, we made cheese day and night and progressed with the project,” Prokofiev says.

They got their mold from a local dairy and say there’s no problem finding mold, even online. “You can order it on the Internet, simply Google ‘mold,’ preferably ‘Penicillium roqueforti,’ because that’s the edible kind,” Kornaev says.

“It’s not that you scrape mold from an old sock into an envelope. Blue and red molds are edible, for example. If you see green or orange mold growing on cheese it could be dangerous. In the Caucasus they used to make cheese using a strange process. They used a dried chicken or lamb gizzard as a fermenting agent, for the enzymes. Today all these things come in powders, everything is purified so it was easy for us to make cheeses by ourselves,” he says.

One of the cheeses shown in the exhibition. Credit: Vadim Prokofiev and David Kornaev
David Kornaev, left, and Vadim Prokofiev. Daniel TchetchikCredit: Daniel Tchetchik