Monday, May 5, 2008

Artisinal Foods Memo: The 'Crack Heard Round the World'; Whole Foods Sets World's Record For Cracking Most Parmigiano Cheese Wheels Simultaneously

Two Whole Foods Market cheesemongers crack the giant, 85-pound wheel of cheese at a store in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada on April 12.

Another food-based world record has been broken.

Last month, Whole Foods Market, Inc. set a world record by simultaneously cracking open 300 85-pound wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in 270 of its stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

With all the data in--300, 85-pound wheels of the Italian artisanal cheese cracked all at the same time in at least 176 stores (that's the number of stores verified at press time) in three nations--the Guinness Book of World Records folks are recording Whole Foods Market and its global team of cheesemongers as the world record holders in the category.

The cheese--although it was a full 24-month aged Italian Parmigiano Reggiano--didn't stand alone in this world-record breaking effort though. Rather, it took hundreds of well-trained Whole Foods Market professional cheesemongers to achieve the task of cracking open the 85-pound artisanal cheese wheels.

This is no easy task. There's a century's-old art to cracking open the cheese wheels, which among other special techniques requires the cheesemonger to use five separate special knives to achieve the goal.

The Whole Foods' team members used this traditional method of "cracking the cheese," to achieve the world's record. It also made an exciting in-store demonstration for those customers who watched the event live in the stores.

And the skilled cheesemongers at all 270 stores in the U.S., Canada and the UK didn't disappoint.

Thousands of Whole Foods' customers showed up on April 12 at 3pm to watch the Whole Foods' cheese specialists attempt to break the world's record for simultaneously cracking open the most wheels of cheese, cheering them on at times, very quite at other times during the process, which traditionally can take an entire half-hour to complete.

Stopwatches were set, synchronization worthy of a military invasion was put into place, and given the 3pm signal, the hundreds of Whole Foods Market cheesemongers all cracked the cheese at the exact same time. General Patton would have been proud of how they pulled the task off.

Keep in mind the "Cheesemonger General" of this event had to balance different time zones--the U.S. stores ranged from the west coast, to the Midwest, to the eastern U.S. for example, not to mention the time difference in the UK--coordinate hundreds of cheesemongers armed with five different types of knives, as well as contend with an excited audience who were all looking forward to a taste of the 24-month aged Italian cheese once the wheels were cracked.

The event went perfectly, according to Cathy Strange, Whole Foods' global cheese buyer and one of the retailer's "big cheeses" behind the world record breaking event. In fact, Ms. Strange was glowing over the success of the global cheese cracking and the fact it will go down in the annals of food-based history.

Commenting on the April 12 cheese cracking, she said: "It was a sight to behold as our cheesemongers 'broke open happiness' and shared this crown jewel of cheeses with our guests. We are thrilled Whole Foods Market has made its mark in the Guinness Book of World Records."

Without fear of sounding "cheesy" we congratulate the Whole Foods cheesemongers for their achievement. The timing, precision and skills required to pull off such a feat is truly impressive.

We also give props to Whole Foods "big cheeses" for coming up with the idea and promotion.

Here at Natural~Specialty Foods Memo, we often argue the best marketing is that which combines fun, excitement, team work and curiosity, along with a message. In this case, the marketing message is that Whole Foods is the "big cheese" when it comes to retail cheese marketing, and that it's not afraid to break a few cheese wheels (like 85 of them weighing 300-pounds each) to prove it.

And, of course, since Parmigiano Reggiano is considered the "king of cheese," a nice choice in selecting the variety for the event and as part of its marketing message.

You can learn more about the event, along with the merchandising of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese at Whole Foods Market, here. There are even a few recipes that will bring tears to every cheese lovers eyes and pleasure to their hearts. You also can view a gallery of pictures of various Whole Foods stores taken during the April 12 world record-breaking cheese wheel cracking event.

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