Butter cow display breaks record, highlights agricultural heritage

By Matt Reese

The butter sculptors outdid themselves with the 2022 butter cow display at the Ohio State Fair. This year’s display features 10 life-size butter sculptures including the traditional cow and calf, a pig, a lamb and a chicken — all being proudly shown by fair exhibitors. The display was created by technical sculptors over hundreds of hours in a 46-degree cooler. While the butter sculptures typically weigh-in around 2,000 pounds, this year’s record-breaking, biggest-ever display includes 2,530 pounds of butter.

“This year the display pays tribute the fair’s agricultural history, and there is a lot of butter in there,” said Jenny Crabtree, with American Dairy Association Mideast. “When fairs began, farmers gathered and brought their livestock and learned from each other. Today the agricultural presence at the fair is still as important as it was then. After not having a fair for a couple of years, it seemed appropriate to take the butter cow tradition and honor another a tradition with the fair’s agricultural heritage.”

According to ADA Mideast, butter sculpting contests were held at the Ohio State Fair and sponsored by The Ohio State University and Ohio’s dairy processors in the early 1900s. As a result of one of the sculpting contests, the first butter cow made its debut at the fair in 1903 and was crafted by A.T. Shelton & Co., distributors of Sunbury Cooperative Creamery butter. Eventually, the butter cow, and later the butter calf, found a permanent home in the Dairy Products Building, which was constructed in the 1920s. 

The Dairy Products Building and the butter sculpture display are sponsored by the American Dairy Association Mideast, Ohio’s dairy-farmer funded marketing and promotion program. Each year, the American Dairy Association Mideast selects a theme to feature in butter 

Here are some butter display facts from ADA Mideast.

• The butter display is sculpted from scratch each year by a team of six sculptors. The technical sculpting team includes lead sculptor Paul Brooke of Cincinnati, Tammy Buerk of West Chester, Erin Birum of Columbus, dairy farmer Matt Davidson of Sidney, Joe Metzler of Auburn and Karen Tharp of Ft. Meyers, Fla.

• This year, the butter display was completed in about 600 hours, of which 500 hours are spent sculpting in a 46 degrees F walk-in cooler.

• More than 500,000 fairgoers visit the Dairy Products Building annually to see the butter sculptures and enjoy ice cream, milkshakes and cheese sandwiches.

• After the fair, the butter is recycled and refined into an ingredient used in a variety of non-edible products.

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