WORTHINGTON -- Some come for the mini-donuts, others have to get in line for the hot beef commercial, but the most popular fair fare seems to be the thick, creamy malts sold at the Nobles County dairy farmers' malt stand.
Despite cloudy skies and cooler-than-normal temperatures Thursday, the malt stand at the Nobles County Fair in Worthington drew a steady stream of customers. One by one, they stepped up to the order window, asking for chocolate, strawberry, or even a twist with strawberries on top.
The malt stand ordered 450 gallons of mix for the four-day county fair, and workers anticipate they'll sell between 4,000 and 5,000 malts by the end of the day on Sunday.
"We call it the malt stand, but there's no malt in it," confessed rural Worthington dairy farmer Lisa Sampson, who worked in the stand Thursday morning. "It's a shake."
Whether it's a malt or a shake really isn't all that important. The real question is, what flavor?
DiDi Christopherson, another rural Worthington dairy farmer and coordinator for the malt stand this year, said twist seemed to be the most popular request during her shift Wednesday night as the truck and tractor pull entertained the crowd in the grandstand.
"Then it's kind of a tie between strawberry and chocolate," she said. "I know vanilla is usually the No. 1 flavor in ice cream, but when it comes to malts, vanilla isn't one of the top sellers."
With three flavor options available -- vanilla, chocolate and strawberry -- people can also chose a twist, which features chocolate and vanilla. Still, there are those with special requests.
"The strangest combination? Chocolate-strawberry," said recently-crowned Nobles County Dairy Princess Justyce Voss. "That's pretty crazy. I wouldn't eat it, but if other people like it...."
Voss didn't bat an eyelash when asked what her favorite flavor is. "Strawberry, all the way!"
Strawberry just happened to be the most popular request Thursday morning, but there are those renegade chocolate lovers out there, like Co-Dairy Princess Kalene DeBoer.
"It's a great treat to have on a summer day when you're out walking around," DeBoer said.
Surprisingly, some people can't stop at just one malt a day.
"Some people I see two to three times a day, every day," Christopherson said. "At 10:30 when we open, people are right there, wanting a malt. We used to open a little earlier, but ice cream for breakfast? I know it's good, but not for me."
If anyone has ever wondered just how many calories are in one of the yummy malts, you're not likely to get the answer from the malt stand workers, either.
"We don't talk about calories. If it tastes good, we don't talk about calories," Christopherson said. "Do we talk about any calories at fairs? I don't think so.
"You just figure you walk around a lot so you burn those calories off," she added.
Voss wholeheartedly agreed.
"It doesn't matter -- don't worry about it," she said. "Eat your malt and enjoy it."
As for DeBoer, she simply doesn't care about calories, saying "They're too good."
DeBoer is in her second year as a Nobles County Dairy Princess. Together, she and Voss promote the dairy industry at the fair, numerous parades and special events.
They are just the latest in a long string of Dairy Princesses to take their shift in the malt stand.
Since the malt stand first came to Nobles County around 1978 -- brought in by Lloyd Winter and Earl Rose -- Christopherson estimates more than 25 county dairy princesses have served up malts to awaiting customers. Of those county princesses, five went on to become finalists for Minnesota Princess Kay of the Milky Way, and one, Tae (Vander Kooi) Nordby, was crowned Princess Kay.
If you don't happen to see a dairy princess working in the malt stand when you're waiting in line to give your order, don't fear. All of the people working behind the counter are connected in some way to dairy farming in Nobles County.
"We have four shifts throughout the day," Christopherson said. "We get grandpas and grandmas, moms and dads, cousins and sometimes friends. Basically, we contact the dairy family and ask them to have so many people from their family (available to work)."
All of the dairy farm families volunteer their time to work in the malt stand while it's at the fair, and some families have done it for decades. The Christophersons have taken their turn every year since the early 1990s, she estimated.
"The draw is you get a free malt if you work in there," Sampson said.
The malt stand -- essentially a trailer filled with all of the mechanics for making those tasty ice cream treats -- is made available to county dairy farmers by Minnesota's American Dairy Association. There are eight to 10 trailers in the fleet. In addition to the malt stand parked at the fairgrounds in Worthington this week, another was stationed at Farmfest, and likely others scattered around at county fairs across the state.
During the Nobles County Fair, the stand will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily, unless, of course, they run out of malt mix and have to close up early on Sunday.
Profits generated from malt sales during the fair are used by the Nobles County Dairy Farmers organization to promote the dairy industry throughout the year. For instance, the group is supplying all of the butter and milk to be served Saturday morning during the free pancake feed from 9 a.m. to noon at the fair. They also did ice cream giveaways during the month of July through a radio promotion.
Some of the money supports dairy princess activities in Nobles County as well.