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Toledo recaptures a slice of Tiedtke’s holiday magic

Scores converge on The Andersons to see giant cheese wheel

  • 16n1bigcheese-Paula-Larsen

    The Andersons’ Paula Larsen, with microphone, leads the crowd in singing Tiedtke’s theme song. With her near the giant cheddar are Evelyn Sandrock, who was photographed sitting on the giant cheese wheel at Tiedtke’s; John Hoover, marketing and business development director for The Andersons; Dick Anderson, chairman emeritus of The Andersons board, and John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade.

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  • 16n1slice-7-Karen-McConaghie

    Karen McConaghie, decked out in cheese-shaped earrings, cuts blocks of cheese for customers at The Andersons.

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  • 16n1jrb-6-John-Block

    John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade, says he can recall Tiedtke’s Department Store, but he was very young at the time.

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  • 16n1goddess-4-Paula-Larsen

    Paula Larsen, "goddess of cheese" and the cheese buyer for The Andersons Market in Sylvania gives a slice of the Wisconsin cheddar to people waiting in line to buy it, including Jerilynn Hamernik, of Toledo, right.

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  • 16n1evelyn-3-Evelyn-Durdel-Sandrock

    Evelyn Durdel Sandrock who was photographed sitting on a block of cheese at Tiedtke’s, stands with Jake Holmes of Sylvania.

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  • n1ladycheese-1

    In 1955, Evelyn Durdel, standing at 4 feet, 9 inches, climbed a ladder to sit atop Tiedtke’s 2 ton, 5-foot holiday cheese and prepares a cheese sandwich.

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  • 16n1boy-1

    Jake Holmes of Sylvania, left, helps Brian Jason Vallier, 5, of Toledo, stay steady atop the cheese. The holiday cheddar at The Andersons was a big draw for photographers.

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16n1bigcheese-Paula-Larsen

The Andersons’ Paula Larsen, with microphone, leads the crowd in singing Tiedtke’s theme song. With her near the giant cheddar are Evelyn Sandrock, who was photographed sitting on the giant cheese wheel at Tiedtke’s; John Hoover, marketing and business development director for The Andersons; Dick Anderson, chairman emeritus of The Andersons board, and John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade.

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Edward Hessling grasped tightly a white-and-green Tiedtke’s card, a reminder of the landmark department store that once anchored downtown Toledo.

Mr. Hessling, 91, used to work in Tiedtke’s toy department during the holiday season when he was 19 or 20 years old. His father, Edward Hessling, Sr., was a butcher there in the 1960s and ’70s and at Christmastime was part of one of Toledo’s most cherished holiday traditions: the cutting of Tiedtke’s giant cheese wheel.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view more photos

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Mr. Hessling and scores of others watched Saturday as employees of The Andersons on Talmadge Road used a wire to cut through a 3,200-pound cheddar cheese wheel, resurrecting a decades-old tradition. Back in the day, Mr. Hessling recalled, the cheese wheel would be cut on top and with knives.

This cheese wheel, crafted by Henning’s Cheese in Kiel, Wis., was decorated with red ribbons and bows, along with the occasional adorable baby propped atop it for photos, drawing cheers from the crowd. Women working behind the store’s cheese counter wore cheese-wedge shaped earrings, and at least two onlookers sported cheese-wedge hats.

“This is a heartwarming event,” said John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade, who suggested earlier this year that The Andersons should order a giant wheel of cheese for Christmas to bring back the Tiedtke’s tradition.

“Tiedtke’s was magic, especially at Christmas. The Andersons is magic at Christmas and all through the year,” Mr. Block said.

Before the slicing could begin, Paula Larsen, the “goddess of cheese” from The Andersons’ Sylvania store, led the crowd in two rounds of Tiedtke’s theme song. The swelling crowd counted out one-two-three and then shouted “Cheese,” and the ribbons were cut.

John Kowalski, manager of the The Andersons’ Talmadge store, told the crowd that he and others charged with cheese slicing had “been working out for days” in preparation. Nothing could have prepared them, though, for the enormous task they faced.

First they scored the wheel’s outer wax casing. Then they used a long, thick wire to cut the cheese horizontally. After knocking off several large slices, the men had worked up quite a sweat and, if they weren’t sore already, were likely to be when they woke up today.

Begun in August with 33,000 pounds of milk, the medium cheddar had been aged for three months before Saturday’s slicing.

16n1slice-7-Karen-McConaghie

Karen McConaghie, decked out in cheese-shaped earrings, cuts blocks of cheese for customers at The Andersons.

THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
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Shoppers waited patiently in two lines that snaked around the store for their pieces of the cheddar, which sold for $4.99 a pound. Many swapped stories of their Tiedtke’s memories.

Sisters Marlene Topfer of Waterville and Carol LaBounty of Perrysburg grew up in East Toledo. Both bought their wedding dresses at Tiedtke’s. Ms. LaBounty’s daughter, who was married last year, wore the tiara from her mother’s veil, also a Tiedtke’s purchase.

Emilie Mullins of Blissfield, Mich., planned her Saturday around the cheese slicing. She loaded her children into the car, shopped in Toledo, and made it to The Andersons for the ceremony.

“When do you get to see cheese that big?” Ms. Mullins asked. They plan to use their holiday cheddar in tacos.

Paul Voska of Perrysburg bought 30 pounds of the holiday cheddar: 5 pounds to take home, cut up, and give to friends and maybe make some macaroni and cheese. The remaining 25 pounds, Mr. Voska said, would be donated to the Cherry Street Mission. “Even if they can’t be here or can’t afford it, they can still get some holiday cheese. Everyone should have some,” he said.

For the Mullinses, the cheese slicing was entirely new, but there were many who remembered, vividly, the cheese cuttings at Tiedtke’s.

16n1jrb-6-John-Block

John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade, says he can recall Tiedtke’s Department Store, but he was very young at the time.

THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
Enlarge | Buy This Image

“The event was thrilling,” said Debbie Pizio, a Toledo native who now lives in Ida. “The memories were fantastic.”

Mr. Block said he has some memories of Tiedtke’s, but he was only about 6 years old when the store was nearing its closing. Still, he said, this was a memory worth bringing back.

“It’s just tremendous,” he said. “Some people wonder whether this kind of memory needs to be revived, and what we discovered today is sometimes, what people fondly remember can be seen again. It doesn’t have to end with Tiedtke’s cheese.”

In the hours after the first sale, traffic stayed “real steady,” said Jeremy Givens, an assistant manager of the Talmadge store. “People have been coming in and picking up chunks. There certainly was a lot of community interest.”

As closing approached, about 1,000 pounds of the cheese had gone out the door, Mr. Givens said.

When purchasing the Holiday Cheddar, The Andersons customers should look for the Holiday Cheddar label. The cheese is available at the Talmadge Road store, but starting Friday, it will go on sale at The Andersons’ Maumee store and market in Sylvania.

Dan Anderson, president of the retail group and vice president for corporate operations services, said he was pleased with Saturday’s event and said the company plans to bring the ceremonial cheese slicing back next year to build on traditions and memories.

“I’m tickled with the young families and little kids here,” Mr. Anderson said. “There’s something special about a 3,200-pound wheel of cheese.”

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.

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