click to enlarge Grace (10), Cecelia (5) and Leo (2) display their finished creations. Bottom: Leo was excited to try his hand at sculpting with butter. - PHOTOS BY LANA SHOVLIN
Photos by Lana Shovlin
Grace (10), Cecelia (5) and Leo (2) display their finished creations. Bottom: Leo was excited to try his hand at sculpting with butter.

In my early 20s, I worked at a dairy in Longmont, Colorado. The company, which was part of the grassroots movement to revive home milk delivery, was known for having the creamiest, most delicious milk in the state of Colorado. In the early morning hours, long before anyone else was awake, milkmen (and women) dressed in pristine white uniforms would leave cold, glass bottles of milk on the doorsteps of families all over town. Everything about it felt wholesome and simple, and I loved being part of it.

Initially, I started working at the company's country store, which was located at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. Year-round, I would sell milk, half-and-half and whipping cream in glass bottles to friendly locals. In the summertime, I hand-scooped ice cream for excited tourists preparing for their ascent up the breathtaking mountainside into Estes Park, hoping to view the craggy, awe-inspiring summit of Longs Peak. During the winter months, I worked hard to keep the decadent homemade eggnog in stock, a feat that sometimes proved impossible. 

I loved working at the country store, but I knew that there were better job opportunities available to me through the company, and soon I had a new job writing the weekly newsletter. The Moo News included information about the company, employee spotlights, farm information, recipes and a listing of local events. It was distributed to customers along with their weekly milk delivery and passed out with the employee paychecks.  Because of The Moo News, I discovered how much I enjoyed writing, and I also learned a great deal about all things dairy-related. That's why, when my editor phoned me about writing an article about the Illinois State Fair Butter Cow, I jumped at the chance. Some people may find such an assignment "udderly" ridiculous, but to me, it felt like coming home. 

The Butter Cow is a life-size cow crafted out of 500 pounds of butter and has been an icon at the Illinois State Fair since the 1920s. Sadly, for the first time since WWII, the fair was canceled this year leaving many people, including my children, wondering what they would do without their annual trip to see their favorite bovine friend. 

Lucky for us, Illinois Times and Prairie Farms were one step ahead and collaborated to create a miniature butter cow contest. Contestants of all ages are asked to create a miniature cow out of butter and submit photographs of their creations to the Illinois Times website. Jumping at the chance to make any kind of mess, my kids were delighted when I told them about the contest, and as I began setting up sticks of butter on the table for them to sculpt, I wondered aloud how I could ever again tell them not to play with their food.  

What surprised us most about crafting with butter was how quickly everything within reach gets covered in a thin, slippery layer of goo. Therefore, my middle child, the one who doesn't like to get her hands dirty, declared that butter cows are "disgusting" and quickly opted out of the project. My other two children didn't seem to mind, though, and had a great time. My oldest daughter chose to use the same approach that the actual butter cow artists do and expertly molded her butter around a cow figurine we happened to have on hand. Not to be outdone, my two-year-old son grabbed a plastic bear out of the toybox and began wildly slathering it with gobs of golden butter. I'm not sure if using a bear is against the contest rules, but since 2020 is the year that anything goes, I'm guessing it will be okay.

Submit your own butter cow entry by Aug. 17. There are three categories: 12 years and under, 13 to 17 years and over 18 years. One winner in each age division will receive $50 in Prairie Farms coupons and $75 cash. Visit illinoistimes.com/contest for more details.

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