Running from August 9 through August 19 this year, the Iowa State Fair is full of fascinating food, including the completely ridiculous salad on a stick, so it’s not surprising that this is the place where visitors have been able to find an entire cow sculpted out of butter for the past 107 years. Held every August in Des Moines, the capital and biggest city in the state, the Iowa State Fair puts it Butter Cow on display alongside an equally impressive “companion sculpture,” both of which are made of low-moisture, pure cream Iowa butter.
First sculpted in 1911 and made this year by Sarah Pratt — the fair’s fifth butter sculptor, who has been in the position since 2006 — the Butter Cow weighs 600 pounds (as opposed to a real dairy cow’s more than 1,000 pounds) and is made with a mesh frame made of wood, metal, wire, and steel. Layer upon layer of butter is applied to the frame until the sculpture becomes a life-sized butter cow measuring 8 feet long and 5.5 feet high.
The entire sculpting process is done within a 40-degree cooler to keep the butter in shape and unmelted, and much of the butter is recycled every year for up to 10 years. According to the Iowa State Fair, their Butter Cow is enough to butter 19,200 slices of toast and would take the average person two entire lifetimes to consume.
This year’s companion sculpture is in the form of a Waterloo Boy Tractor in celebration of the 100th anniversary of John Deere entering the tractor business when it purchased the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company. The tradition of the companion sculpture started in 1996, Iowa’s sesquicentennial, when the first took the form of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting.
Previous companion sculptures have included a rendition of Leonardo DaVinci’s “The Last Supper,” Iowa native Brandon Routh’s portrayal of Superman, and Harry Potter. The Waterloo Boy Tractor butter sculpture stands alongside the Butter Cow in the John Deere Agriculture Building’s 40-degree cooler as part of the fair alongside other agricultural demonstrations and exhibits. Attendees can visit the sculptures and take photos with them, separated by a glass display window, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily as they enjoy the fair’s music, games, and rides — and some of Iowa’s best food and drink.