A dairy good treat: Malts on menu at Nobles County (Minn.) Fair

WORTHINGTON, Minn. - Creamy, dreamy, cool and calcium-rich. Malts are a marvelous summertime refreshment, especially when consumed on a steamy August afternoon at the Nobles County Fair. "We serve about 6,000 malts each year," said DiDi (Christop...

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WORTHINGTON, Minn. – Creamy, dreamy, cool and calcium-rich.

Malts are a marvelous summertime refreshment, especially when consumed on a steamy August afternoon at the Nobles County Fair.

“We serve about 6,000 malts each year,” said DiDi (Christopherson) Edwards, a third- generation Worthington-area dairy producer who has managed the Nobles County Dairy Association’s malt stand at the fair for the past four years (with aid from her sister, Cynda Coleman, now of Michigan).

Working without the benefit of air conditioning, Edwards and an eager team of volunteers, culled from the county’s dairy community, dish out vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and twist malts on demand during the fair’s five-day annual fling.

“It’s the most stressful time of year for me, not knowing what the weather will be like or how many people will show up,” admitted Edwards.


“We can’t return any of the malt mix (purchased from suppliers Land O’Lakes and Dean’s Foods), and we have to estimate how much we’ll need in advance, so it’s kind of a guessing game.”

What’s never a question is whether or not patrons will be satisfied with their ice cream orders. One glance at the numerous malt cups in the hands of fair-goers strolling the grounds is testimony to the malt wagon’s popularity.

“It’s great to see people so excited about dairy products,” agreed Edwards.

“If they have a malt, or a carton or bottle of milk at the fair, it’s always nice to see they’re going for the dairy instead of a different product.

“There are some people who stop and get a couple malts a day,” she continued. “We like putting the goodness of dairy out there, and letting people see the faces of the different dairy producers in the stand as well, so they can meet the people behind the products.”

It’s important to know that the dollars brought in from the malts’ modest cost don’t directly benefit Edwards or the other volunteer workers from the local dairy industry. (The volunteers, in fact, receive only one complimentary malt each as thanks for their service in the booth.)

“We give it all back to the community,” explained Edwards. “Whenever an organization has a banquet or event that includes dairy products, the Nobles County Dairy Association (NCDA) helps sponsor those.”

For instance, at the Nobles County Fair itself, the NCDA supplies the milk for the FFA food stand, plus the cheese and ice cream for the 4-H food building.


“In the past, we’ve sponsored ‘Player of the Game’ treats of chocolate milk for all basketball players, and we’ve helped pay for milk, cheese and other dairy products for Boy Scouts, certain school groups, the United Way’s telethon food tasting event and for the King Turkey Day pancake breakfast,” listed Edwards.

“All of the money for that comes from this fair booth; it’s our one big fundraiser for the year. Organizations just need to approach us about the dairy product sponsorships.”

Edwards returned to work at her family’s farm, where 75 cows are milked twice each day, after graduating from college in 2007. Recently married to Jason Edwards, she says her husband, who has an off-the- farm job, gets involved with hay baling or assisting with other farm chores when her parents are away.

“I recruited him to help in the malt stand, too,” she laughed.

While on malt duty, Edwards runs a tight ship.

“I can be very strict in my wagon management,” she affirmed, “because I don’t want things to get sticky and messy.

“I like to deliver pleasant malts, and I want us to operate efficiently but not be sloppy.”

Surprisingly, Edwards doesn’t mind seeing lines of customers, dollar bills in hand, waiting patiently near the malt wagon.


“I prefer that, actually, because it keeps us busy, and we just put them out as fast as we can,” Edwards said.

And special orders don’t upset them; if specified at the outset, Edwards and her staff can mix strawberries into a chocolate or twist malt, for example.

“Just tell us it’s a ‘special,’” encouraged Edwards.

But are those malts really…malts?

“Maybe a long time ago they used to add malt powder, so they really are shakes rather than malts,” revealed Edwards.

“If we call them ‘shakes,’ though, people get confused, so we just went back to calling them ‘malts.’”

Also, customers need to be aware there is a finite supply of malts on hand.

“Sometimes we run out on Saturday night,” warned Edwards. “Typically, our malt mix has lasted until Sunday, but you never know for sure.”


When the fair is finally winding to its inevitable end and there’s enough malt mix left in the hard-working machine, Edwards and her sister indulge in their own Nobles County Fair tradition.

“We make a vanilla malt to share, along with a bag of mini-donuts,” said Edwards. “That’s how we close down the fair.”

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