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Food by VICE

This Food Artist Is Building a Border Wall out of Spoiled Cotija Cheese

Cosimo Cavallaro believes that “dairy and milk symbolize life, and walls symbolize fear and borders.”

by Bettina Makalintal
Mar 27 2019, 8:57pm

Photography by Alan Shaffer/www.cheesewall.com

Artist Cosimo Cavallaro is no stranger to over-the-top cheese stunts: In 1999, he drenched a hotel room in 1,000 pounds of melted Gruyère and Swiss; two years later, he covered an entire house, furniture included, in pepper jack; and he once dressed the iconic 60s model Twiggy in Cheese Whiz. Between those projects, he’s made a bed out of ham, a candy chair, and even a chocolate Jesus statue that was called “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever.”

As of this week, Cavallaro is back to cheese. He began construction on The Cheese Wall in Tecate, California on Monday. The project is just what it sounds like: a wall made of slabs of Cotija—a firm, crumbly cheese from Mexico—that he’s building block by block along the US-Mexico border. Cavallaro, who livestreamed the start of its construction on Facebook, started construction with 200 blocks of expired Cotija, which should make about a 25-foot-long wall.

Cavallaro is doing the physical labor of the project, so Sarah Cavallaro, the artist’s producer and wife, told MUNCHIES in an email, “Cosimo Cavallaro, who has been working with cheese as a medium for 30 years, has always had a knack for walls as well. He loves using cheese as he believes dairy and milk symbolize life, and walls symbolize fear and borders.”

The point of the wall is to start a conversation—not to serve a functional purpose. “This wall is a documentation of our times, this is a moment where we are talking about an issue, about walls,” Cavallaro says in a video on the project’s website. “As an immigrant child, we were always looked upon us as outsiders. [...] We were always pointed to as the problem,” he says in another. There’s a waste angle, too: Since all the cheese is expired, the wall highlights how much food is wasted due to food regulations.

Cavallaro has had the idea of a cheese wall for decades, but President Trump’s demands for a border wall gave him the final push. “Trump’s demand gave me a context for this, the emotional impact,” Cavallaro told HuffPo. President Trump has, of course, staked his political career on anti-immigrant sentiment: His calls for a border wall between the United States and Mexico have led to both a rallying cry for his supporters and a weeks-long government shutdown—and created a political environment that has worried many members of the Latino-American community.

The length of the wall depends on how much people want to support it; the wall could be longer than 200 blocks, depending on how Cavallaro’s GoFundMe shakes out. As of this writing, it’s received only a tiny fraction of its $300,000 goal—but with the full amount, the wall could allegedly stretch 1,000 feet.