8/31/2013 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — If you discuss the New York State Fair with anyone, chances are the annual butter sculpture will come up in conversation. Housed in the Dairy Products Building near the Rainbow Dairy Bar, the sculpture draws thousands of fairgoers to see what the current year’s design will be.
This year’s design, “Getting Fresh with Local Dairy,” features scenes from New York, including Niagara Falls, the Adirondack Mountains, a tanker truck hauling milk, a dairy barn and a cow depicting the Statue of Liberty that’s holding an ice cream cone instead of a torch and a wheel of cheese instead of a tablet.
Encircling these depictions of popular tourist attractions are four children, each representing a different season. The children consume a different dairy product, such as the ice-skating girl sipping cocoa and the boy returning to school while eating a stick of string cheese.
“We’re trying to say a lot in one sculpture,” said Beth Meyer, director of communications for the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council Inc. “It’s an effort to highlight that dairy is produced fresh, locally in every part of New York state.”
The local food trend has become popular among foodies and everyday consumers; however, Meyer said most people think of produce, not dairy.
“They talk about strawberries or sweet corn which are produced just for a few weeks,” Meyer said. “Dairy is a local food produced every day.”
The dairy association’s board members consult with husband and wife sculptors Jim Victor and Marie Pelton of Conshohocken, Pa., to choose the annual theme.
“If you can’t have fun with 800 pounds of butter, you aren’t trying very hard,” Meyer said.
Victor and Pelton have carved the New York State Fair’s butter sculpture for the past 11 years. Last year’s Greek-oriented theme, “Going for the Gold,” paid tribute to the Olympics and the growing popularity of Greek yogurt production and consumption in New York. Prior to that, “Tribute to the Lunch Lady,” featured school children picking up dairy items for their school lunch in the cafeteria.
The couple’s food sculptures have also appeared at the Pennsylvania Farm Show; Borderfest in Hidalgo, Texas; The Eastern States Exhibition, or Big E, in West Springfield, Mass.; the York Fair; Los Angeles County Fair; and many other events.
“We see this as the big chance to talk with consumers about what’s going on with the dairy industry,” Meyer said. “We often have farm themes. It’s one chance of the year to get a lot of attention for our dairy farmers.”
So what happens to the 800 pounds of butter after the fair ends Sept. 2?
“I’d love to hand everyone a knife on the last day, but by the time we’re done, it’s not sanitary to eat,” Meyer said. “There are people in and out of the case. But trust me, if it were safe, I have a mental image of people rushing it with toast and baked potatoes and muffins. But food safety is too important to mess around with anything like that.”
The last few years, the State University of New York has made biodiesel for busses using the butter sculpture. But since their equipment is down this year, Onondaga County Recycling and Recovery will recycle it in compost.
The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council Inc. is sponsoring a butter sculpture fan photo contest via Instagram. Fairgoers may win one of five supermarket gift cards each worth $100, or the grand prize, a year’s supply of milk.
“We wanted to have fun with it and have people hashtag it, milk365daysayear’ and incorporate it into the captions like, I drink milk every day of the year’ or These bones came from me drinking milk every day,’” Meyer said.
Winners will be selected randomly and be notified by Sept. 10.