On a visit to the Ohio State Fair, you’re bound to see award- winning livestock and their dedicated 4-H exhibitors, exciting games and attractions, furry animals at the petting zoo, pony rides and pig races and well-known artists singing live onstage. But there’s another attraction that has been a tradition since the early 1900s – the famous butter cow.
“The butter sculpture display is one of the most loved traditions of the Ohio State Fair,” says Jenny Hubble, senior vice president of communications for the American Dairy Association Mideast, which represents dairy farmers in Ohio and West Virginia. “Ohio’s dairy farmers are proud to support it.”
The tradition began in 1903, when The Ohio State University and dairy processors of Ohio sponsored butter-sculpting contests at the fair. There were no restrictions on what the sculptures needed to be, and the first butter cow and calf were turned in by T. Shelton & Company, distributors of Sunbury Co-Operative Creamery Butter.
The cow and calf were so popular that after the Dairy Products Building was constructed in the 1920s, the bovine butter sculptures found a permanent home. Today, the American Dairy Association Mideast sponsors the exhibit, enlisting a team of technical sculptors to create the pieces each year. More than 500,000 visitors stop by the Dairy Products Building to see the sculptures, plus enjoy tasty cheese sandwiches and ice cream.
“The Dairy Products Building and the annual butter display help showcase Ohio’s dairy farmers and the products they produce,” Hubble says.
Other butter figures have been added to the display, with the subject changing every year, but making sure to stay noncontroversial and reflect optimism. Previous displays have included a tribute to Ohio High School Athletes, 4-H, the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Championship, Ohio as the nation’s leader in Swiss cheese, The Ohio State Buckeyes and lots more.
The butter display takes a lengthy 500 hours to complete, 400 of which are spent sculpting. The butter – all 2,000 pounds of it – is donated in part by the Dairy Farmers of America. The completed sculptures are housed in a walk-in cooler at 46 degrees Fahrenheit, which also houses the winning cheeses from the Ohio State Fair cheese contest.
The exhibit holds true to Ohio agriculture’s commitment to sustainability, and after the fair is over, the butter is recycled and refined into an ingredient that’s used for animal feed, tires, cosmetics and more. Learn more about the butter cow’s tradition at ohiostatefair.com/butter-cow.