Forest Lake, Minn. — With the State Fair ending Monday, you only have a few more days to go to the Dairy Building to see the butter princesses inside the rotating cooler, having their likeness carved into 90 pounds of butter. It's a must-see for most of us who go to the fair every year.
When the Fair is over, all the princesses who get a carving get to keep their butter head. And that means everything right down to the shavings of butter that were cut away during the carving process.
So what does one do with 90 pounds of butter? This year's Princess Kay of the Milky Way, 17-year-old Christine Reitsma of Sauk Centre, Minn., asked some previous butter princesses for their advice.
"The former Princess Kay, Mary Zahurones, had a corn feed this summer, and she kind of gave me the finalized point that that's what I want to do as well," Reitsma said.
Before the meal, the princesses still have to store the head somewhere.
Fortunately, it's pretty easy to find large coolers on dairy farms and having a connection to the dairy industry is a must to be eligible to compete for Princess Kay.
One of last year's finalists, 20-year-old Erin Daninger, is part of the family that runs Autumnwood Farms in Forest Lake, Minn.
Daninger was one of just a few students in her class of 600 at Forest Lake High School who lived on a farm. In fact, at her volleyball games, her friends would "moo" whenever she served, which apparently threw off a few opponents who thought the fans were booing one of their own players.
Autumnwood farm has a small store on site where you can buy dairy, but that's not where Daninger's butter head is. To find it, you have to leave that little store and walk past the barn where a dozen or so recently born calves are hanging out, around the Daninger's house and past a small army of farm cats until finally you happen upon the large red shed used for storing farm machinery and huge piles of hay.
Behind that hay is an unassuming chest freezer along one wall. The untrained eye might assume there's frozen meat in there, which is true. But that's only half the freezer's story. At this point, Daninger enlists her dad, Pat Daninger, to help.
"This is the butter head, taking up half the freezer," Erin Daninger said. "There's some ground beef here, some sloppy joe mix over here."
How will the family get the butter head out? "That's a good question," Pat Daninger said.
It might seem completely undignified that these trophies of the State Fair, a staple of so many people's trips to the fairgrounds, end up in the back of a machinery shed, behind some hay. But keep in mind it has to be that way. Little league trophies fit just fine on the mantle over the fireplace, but not 90 pounds of butter.
After clearing out the pork and taking the rather plain-looking cardboard box out of the freezer, Pat Daninger opened it and pulled out an even plainer-looking gray garbage bag. Inside that bag is his daughter's butter head.
"Oh no!" she said as the head was revealed. The sculpture's nose had been smashed. "That's too bad - shoot!"
"That's definitely cardboard box imprint there," Erin Daninger said. "It sat out, it melted a little bit. I'm sure the nose, because there's not a lot of butter there, I'm sure it melted quicker than the rest of me."
This was just the second time Daninger had seen the butter head since it was carved last year. Earlier this year, it was on display at an open house on the farm.
As unnerving as it would be to see your own butter nose smashed, the Daningers have heard through that network of former butter princesses that it's fixable. You can let it melt a little and then do some cosmetic re-shaping to get the nose back. If you're not too hung up on purism, you could even add a little new butter to the mix to help. It's good advice for when Erin Daninger actually uses the butter later this year over Christmas break.
"I'm planning to get together with the women of my church and bake cookies for the senior citizens in the community," she said. "I still want to keep the front half of it, with my smashed nose there, just in case my sister were to get a butter head of her own and then we could take some pictures together down the road."
Erin Daninger said there are only so many ideas out there for what to do with a 90-pound block of butter. A corn feed is a popular option and the princesses can donate it if they can find a group that can use it.
Back at the State Fairgrounds,Theresa Twohey of Stewartville, Minn. from last year's class has her own plans.
"I currently still have mine, but my family is hosting Breakfast on the Farm for Olmsted County in June (2013), and they serve about 4,000 people a pancake breakfast," she said. "So we're going to melt it down and use it for that. I'm super excited to see (the butter head) again."
Twohey and the others said they like the idea of some kind of public event, preferably on their family's farms, because it lets them thank the community for its support.
Then again, there is another option. Princess Kay historians might not recognize the name Donna Moenning, but back in 1980 she was Donna Schmidt from Dodge County and she was one of the finalists.
"My butter (is) still in my freezer," she said. "After 32 years, why not?"
Moenning said she has taken it out for a look.
"After my kids heard about it, you take it out and look at it and say 'oh, that's scary' and then you put it away," she said. "Obviously after 32 years, we're not going to eat the butter. But what else do you do with it?"