You’ve probably watched the Minnesota State Fair butter sculptor carve those giant hunks of butter into the more delicate likenesses of Princess Kay of the Milky Way and her court. But have you ever wondered where all of that butter actually comes from?
We did, so we got in touch with Sarah Olson Schmidt. She was crowned Princess Kay in 2002 and is now vice president of marketing for Associated Milk Producers, Inc.
It turns out the dairy co-op makes the 90-pound carving blocks for the fair, making it a team effort by dairy farmers across the upper Midwest.
While the blocks are a special order, you can find the same butter for your dinner table under the brand, Dinner Bell Creamery.
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Tell me about the dairy.
So AMPI is a farmer-owned cooperative. So that means the dairy farmers who are milking their cows on farms throughout the upper Midwest — and definitely here in Minnesota — milk from their farms goes to one of eight of the co-op’s manufacturing plants.
We have one butter plant. That butter plant is in New Ulm, Minn., where we make all kinds of butter, but specially for the fair are these 90-pound blocks.
So the dairy farmers of AMPI have gifted the butter to these dairy princesses since the early 90s. It's a very special tradition that we're very proud to be a part of.
Tell us about what goes into getting all this transported to the fair.
First, that milk that's produced on our member farms arrives at the butter plant. The cream is separated from the milk and is then churned. Then it is piped into an area in which we can hand pack it into a 90 pound block form.
The dimensions of that block are specific. We worked with the artist to determine the proper dimensions for sculpting someone's head and that's the size that we landed on many years ago.
Once the butter is packed into that form, we then make sure that it gets nice and solid. It goes into the cooler and then, after a couple days, we arrange for the transportation to the fairgrounds.
Now here's a controversy I'm aware of: The Illinois and Iowa state fairs apparently use some sort of a mesh frame to make their butter sculptures. Have you heard of this?
Yeah, I have. That is a controversy. You know your butter.
Here in Minnesota, there is no such frame or structure for these butter sculptures, right? As a marble bust is solid marble, a butter bust is solid butter.
You're exactly right. This is a solid block of butter that becomes one of these young ladies’ likenesses. And that is something we can be very proud of here in Minnesota. It is a solid butterhead.
Now, what you may not know is we do provide the butter for Iowa's butter cow. We have some dairy farmers who live in Iowa and so we've been donating the butter for that — we won't call it a sculpture because it's not truly sculpted from a block of butter. But yes, they do use a wire mesh frame and they apply the butter to the cow.