It’s day one of the Iowa State Fair, and what would that fair be without its centerpiece, the butter cow? Six hundred pounds of pure cream butter, shaped around a frame of wood, wire, metal and steel mesh.

The butter cow made its debut in 1911, but the food news site The Takeout just took a closer look at the history of butter sculpture, which goes back even further.

In the 19th century, it wasn’t uncommon for dairy farms to press butter into shapes to add extra appeal and value to their product.

In 1867, a woman called Caroline Shawk Brooks took the concept of shaping butter to a new level. In a year the cotton crop essentially failed, Brooks succeeded, by creating sculptures of historical and literary figures, including a buttery Mary Queen of Scots.

Brooks’ sculptures got new attention and admiration thanks to her friend Lucy Webb Hayes, who was the First Lady of Ohio, and would go on to be First Lady of the United States. She arranged for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia to show off one of Brooks’ literary designs, and history was made.

The butter sculpture has long been treated as a novelty, but as author Aimee Levitt writes, they have come in handy for dairy producers, who used the works of art to showcase the purity and practicality of their products as margarine became more popular.

The butter in the sculptures, by the way, can last five to 10 years after being sculpted.

So you could go to Iowa and see the butter cow, or go to Ohio to see this year’s butter renditions of the Apollo 11 astronauts, and then eventually put a big glob of one of those sculptures on your pancakes or your toast.

Iowa is lining up to see the butter cow, but Minnesotans are heading to the community of Darwin this weekend for Twine Ball Day. That’s the time and the place where they celebrate the Biggest Ball Of Twine in Minnesota, the one Weird Al Yankovic sang about.

It took almost 30 years to wrap by hand and weighs 17,400 pounds. Twine Ball Day includes photo time with the ball, music, food and a Twine-K run. Don’t worry, the ball won’t roll behind you on the course.

The surprisingly lofty history of American butter sculpting (The Takeout)

This Year’s Ohio State Fair Butter Sculpture Pays Tribute to 50th Anniversary of Moon Landing (Cleveland Scene)

Twine Ball Day in Darwin, MN (Explore Minnesota)

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Butter cow sculpture photo by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr/Creative Commons