An artist best known for decorative cheese has broadened his palette, or palate, to ham.

Cosimo Cavallaro (search), who once repainted a New York hotel room in melted mozzarella, has covered a bed in processed ham.

"I feel like I am back in my mother's deli," the artist said Thursday.

His installation in a street-level gallery space of the Roger Smith Hotel in midtown Manhattan involved slicing 312 pounds of ham and tossing the meat on top of a four-poster bed. The installation, which took 3 1/2 hours, will be kept in the air-conditioned room for two days.

According to the artist, no concern about cockroaches has been raised. "They are welcome," he said. "Imagine what this looks like from the point of view of an insect."

He added that his cheese exhibits had never attracted a mouse. "Too much cheese," he said. "It would have overwhelmed them."

At noon, Cavallaro, a burly man with long unkempt hair and a beard, was busy working a chrome meat slicer, similar to one he had used as a youth, working summers in his mother's delicatessen. "I was a good slicer back then," he said looking straight ahead as he flipped a handful of sliced ham behind him onto a growing mound rising from the white sheets.

Outside, pedestrians stopped to peer in through the glass. Some called the project a waste of food. But nearby delis were said to be picking up business because the mounds of meat seemed to trigger appetites.

Cavallaro, 41, the son of immigrants from southern Italy, grew up in Montreal and now lives in Brooklyn (search).

He asked his mother, who still lives in Montreal, not to attend the installation. "She would want to get in on the act," he said. But his father, a metal worker who died two years ago, was less amused by his work.

"His father never let him play," said longtime girlfriend Sarah Jacobs. "That's why he started with the cheese."

Sliced ham, Cavallaro said, is "a pure form of America: all kinds of parts, boiled and pressed together."

Despite his training in an Italian art school, he said he had rejected Prosciutto (search) — "It would have been pompous." He also shelved an idea to do ham and eggs as "too pretentious, too thought out."

But he thinks he will always come back to food as a medium. "The smells bring you back to unexpected places," he said. "It's very special."

Gallery director Matthew Semler said he booked the exhibit for the fun of it. "This isn't work, it's play. That's what Cos does," he said, referring to the artist.

Cavallaro says his cheese period ended two years ago, after he had sprayed five tons of pepper jack over a vacant house in Powell, Wyo.

"I was cloaking myself in cheese. I had started getting comfortable," he explained. "I always need new boundaries."