Butter Tart

The Arizona State Fair is known for rodeos, midway rides, music, and . . . spreadable art? Yep, you heard it right. This year's fair features "The Lost Cow" butter sculpture by California artist Sarah Nep. Nep's specialty is cheese sculpture, and she made her first foray into fromage after art school. "It was a fluke," she says. Searching for a creative way to display his company's product, Nep's husband suggested a cheddar cow. Intrigued, Sarah crafted the a-moo-zing sculpture and, 18 years later, she's all but cornered the market on cheesy art, carving representations of pop-culture icons from Yoda to Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Nep's ripened-curd bust of the California governor is pictured above.)

For her Phoenix display, Nep plans a twist on traditional dairy cows found at fairs. "It's lost in the desert," she says. There will also be a celebrity figure shown looking for the cow, but Nep won't reveal the punch line in advance. "You'll just have to go see the finished product to find out who it is," she says.

This will be Nep's first attempt at butter carving, but she's udderly excited about the possibilities of the new medium. "Once you take cheese off, you can't put it back," the artist explains. "It's a reductive method." Butter, on the other hand, is malleable, and can be added and smoothed over the way an artist handles clay.

Because of Phoenix's warm temperatures, the buttery bovine will be housed in a walk-in cooler kept at a constant 42 degrees. Visitors can watch Nep's daily progress through glass windows or view the completed cow after her two-week sculpting period.

So what happens to the 600-plus pounds of butter once the fair closes? According to Nep, the sculpture will be melted down, refrozen and used for future sculptures. "[Technically] it's not for human consumption," she says, "but I like the idea of a bread-and-butter party."