Indiana State Fair: Behind the Scenes at the Dairy Bar

Welcome to the milky way.

If you’ve attended the Indiana State Fair in the last few years, chances are you’ve stood in line at the Dairy Bar. It’s a great place to get a thick milkshake or a gooey grilled cheese that’s a little better for your waistline than that funnel cake out on the Midway. Peek behind the counter at this annual institution, and you’ll see that the Dairy Bar is more than merely an ice cream stand or a sandwich grill. It’s a well-oiled operation that employs 10 shift workers and 18 volunteers who take home generous donations from the Dairy Bar’s proceeds for their local organizations, teams, and school groups, compliments of the American Dairy Association of Indiana.

Those volunteers definitely work hard to help out a good cause. They hardly get a break from prepping the sandwiches, manning the grill, scooping hand-dipped ice cream, or working the windows. “Last year, we sold nearly 60,000 milkshakes and 40,000 grilled cheese,” says American Dairy Association of Indiana director of communications Jenni Purcell. “This isn’t really a moneymaking enterprise but something we do every year to give back to the community and spread the world about Indiana dairy products.” 

That many grilled cheese sandwiches amount to around 25,000 pounds of cheese, says American Dairy Association of Indiana Relationship Specialist Michelle Plummer, who in addition to serving as Dairy Bar manager and teaching foodservice nutrition courses at Ivy Tech Community College also helps brainstorm ideas for new Dairy Bar menu items. 

This year’s creation? The “Blue Moo,” a lightly tangy, somewhat more grown-up take on the traditional grilled cheese with both blue and American cheese on sourdough bread. “It was a rainy day at last year’s fair, and a few of the workers were bored and started experimenting with some of the cheese samples,” Plummer say. “But we only had blue cheese crumbles at the time, so we had a big mound of cheese in the middle of the sandwich.” Plummer and others at the Dairy Association tried out several different breads, including rye, before they settled on sourdough, and they found a supplier of milder blue cheese slices to create a novel grilled cheese that was easier to make and that would satisfy more Dairy Bar customers. 

The blue cheese comes from Wisconsin, but almost all of the Colby, pepper jack, and Swiss cheese comes from Guggisberg Cheese’s Deutsche Kase Haus in Middlebury, Indiana. The milk for the milkshakes and the hand-dipped hard ice creams all comes from Prairie Farms in Anderson. In an effort to offer more healthful options, the Dairy Bar also serves bagels with cream cheese, fruit, and fat-free yogurts, as well as a kids’ meal with a grilled cheese sandwich, apples, and milk. But when there’s ultra-smooth chocolate custard or a buttery sourdough sandwich flecked with blue cheese, you should feel free to dig into all that Indiana dairies have to offer. After all, the fair—and especially the Dairy Bar—comes around just once a year.

For the full Dairy Bar menu, as well as more information about Indiana dairies and products, visit