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The midwestern United States, with its typically hot, humid summers, may not seem like the most logical place to display a half-ton block of easily melted butter, but in Ohio transforming that churned cream into sculptures is a tradition that goes back more than a century.

First used as a marketing tool by dairy companies, life-size butter sculptures of cows, pigs and people have been a state fair staple since the early 1900s. Ohio was one of the first state fairs to exhibit a butter cow in 1903 and has continued the display every year since, though today it has an additional modern spin.

Along with the cow, sculptors at the Ohio State Fair create one greasy companion piece inspired by favourite cultural institutions. In past years, artists have created everything from Darth Vader to the Liberty Bell out of cold butter. Last year, the design chosen by the American Dairy Association celebrated the end of the NASA shuttle program, with the butter formed into a space shuttle and a floating astronaut. Together, the display used 1,550 pounds of butter (about 6,200 sticks) and took more than 475 hours to complete.

This year’s companion piece will be unveiled on 24 July, a day before the fair kicks off. Visitors will be able to see the sculptures (behind a glass-walled refrigerated area, kept at 45F) in the fairground’s Dairy Products Building through 5 August. After the fair ends, the butter will be donated to Ohio’s Mount Vernon Nazarene University, where it will be converted into biodiesel fuel.

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