Milk from Here

lait

There is an interesting emergence of things that are ‘green’ or écologique, in Paris. Words like commerce, responsable, équitable, éthique, durable and solidaire are being seen on more and more products in supermarkets, and even on some restaurant menus these days. Paris has two popular organic markets and discount grocery stores are now offering products like bio (organic) crème fraîche, butter, and pasta. And the city even has an official to preside over sustainable development and ecological initiatives.

(Although no one has asked me, I’m sure quite a few trees could be saved if there wasn’t so much paperwork to fill out, photocopy in triplicate, classify, then re-classify, around here.)

The forward-thinking action that got the most press internationally was the Vélib’ bike program. The program still has a few kinks to work out, though, most notably the costs and excessive vandalism: a recent article in Paris Magazine estimates that the annual upkeep for the program is €20 million and if the roving bands of repairmen were to stop fixing them, there would be no operable bikes in Paris within ten days.

As a user of the program, I think it’s pretty great, considering that they had to reconfigure a good portion of the city, and some attitudes around here, to accommodate it. Yet in spite of the obstacles, it has survived the initial grousing by drivers and other naysayers. And the bikes, along with various other initiatives that have been applied by the local government, has helped to reduce pollution in Paris by approximately 30%.

Being from San Francisco, it’s impossible to even pick up a simple sandwich without knowing what cheese maker stirred the cheese (and the name of the cow the milk was from), how humanely the pig was treated for the ham, which of the spices in the mustard were sourced locally, and how biodegradable the packaging is. I’m happy to know all that information, although it has been taken a bit to the extreme and when I’ve mentioned to someone that they could possibly do something like “walk” to the market, instead of driving there, they look at me like I’m insane.

You do need to be careful in Paris, because there’s a certain amount of cinema, as they say, when you’re shopping, especially at the outdoor markets. For example, eggs are often sold in big, linen-lined baskets, which might lead you to believe they’re from some pastoral farm and each was hand-plucked from underneath the happy hens that morning. But if you read the numbered stamp, you might discover that those eggs are actually from chickens raised in metal cages with the floor the size of a sheet of paper, who are crammed in there, four or five to a cage.

A French friend told me that “…in France, everything grown here is local.” Which I never really considered, but there is some truth in that since France is a relatively small country. But it was explained to me that because Paris is a big city (um, unlike Manhattan), getting locally-grown ingredients is more difficult and you have to go to the countryside yourself if you want to obtain them.

So to raise awareness, last week the Champs-Elysées was covered with greenery to promote agriculture, in Paris. On some of the message boards of the French newspapers, opinions got quite heated about whether the cost of creating this kind of event was worth it. But during the 2-day greening of the boulevard (which is said to have cost €4.2 million, a little over $5.3 million), 1.9 million people showed up.

ladling milk

Recently I saw a new milk being advertised, and I was interested in trying it. It’s called lait d’ici (‘milk from here’, in friendly small-case lettering) and is touted as milk that is collected from producers who are located not farther than 330 kilometers (205 miles) from the point of sale, to reduce l’empreinte carbone. The package, however, didn’t note if the producers were small-scale or industrial. But the site has chirping birds and happy cow logos, so I’ll assume the best.

Plus I liked the snappy packaging, so I picked up a carton. I don’t drink that much milk and mostly use it in my morning café au lait and in baking and ice cream-making. And I never buy sterilized (UHT) milk since I don’t like the idea of it. Sometimes around 1993 Parmalat tried to introduced UHT milk in America, sold in shelf-stable, aseptic boxes, and it was a big flop. I think we Americans are just used to buying fresh, icy-cold cartons or bottles of milk.

I’m not sure how the French, more so than almost any other European country, embraced sterilized milk so vehemently (according to the London Times, 95.5% of the milk consumed in France is UHT sterilized milk), but perhaps it could be attributed a few factors like electricity is very expensive here, French folks are rather frugal, and storage is an issue because space is at a premium, especially in a tight city like Paris.

Plus the French don’t have the same milk-gulping tradition that we Americans do and milk is often used for cooking or adding to hot coffee, where the taste isn’t quite as important. In an odd juxtaposition, most of the fromageries that I’ve been in almost invariably carry sterilized milk. (My fromagerie, which has outstanding raw-milk cheeses, curiously, sells packages of single-serving liquid coffee creamer by the register.) But it’s not quite enough to sway me as I can’t say I like the flavor of the lait stérilisé, which always tastes ‘cooked’, and just feels dead.

lait cru

But walking back from the store where I bought the milk, I was thinking how wasteful it is to refrigerate all the milk that we do in the states. When you go into an American supermarket, there are rows upon rows of refrigerated cases as far as you can see. I can’t image what the average electricity bill is for a typical American supermarket. Perhaps the French have a point and it is more ecologically friendly to sterilize it and save on all the refrigerated trucks used for transport and heavily chilled refrigerators lining the aisles in supermarkets.

Another thing that appeals are the square boxes they use as packaging. It’s nearly impossible to find milk that isn’t sold in plastic bottles in France, which seems odd to me because square or rectangular containers take up a lot less space when packed in cases and on store shelves. So maybe we can chalk another one up for these shelf-stable boxes of milk?

I’m not sure of the concept behind round plastic bottles for milk and was happy to once find fresh milk sold in square cartons in the supermarket. Unfortunately when I returned the next time I needed milk, the grocery store no longer carried it and I couldn’t find it anywhere else in my neighborhood. It’s possible that they carry it in at another store in another neighborhood, somewhere around here, but it’s hard to justify spending a few hours tracking down something. (Although I’ve done worse.)

I did try the Bernard Gaborit fresh organic milk which I bought at the natural foods store. Yes, it was packed in plastic, but it was much thinner plastic than normal and I was happy to pay the extra money for fresh, organic milk that I felt good about, with the promise of tasting ‘alive’. But when I opened the bottle and trickled some in my coffee, the texture was very odd, slightly viscous, and left an unappealing fatty glob at the bottom of my coffee bowl. Don’t get me wrong. I do like barnyard flavors in my cheese very much, but they’re a little off-putting in my morning coffee.

J’♥ le lait d’ici was just 65 centimes, half the price of the fresh milk in plastic bottles. And while I wanted to like it, I just can’t get past the idea that even though the milk has been collected from smaller producers, it’s been heated to a burnishing 275ºF (135ºC) and somehow, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that it’s better for me—and the planet, than the fresh stuff. But I could be wrong.

I’m letting this carton sit on my shelf, and will likely not use it for drinking. Perhaps I’ll cook it down to make dulce de leche. And I’m hoping that sometime down the line, they’ll come out with a fresh version of this milk.

Which will really give me something to ♥.



Related Posts

Is American Food Better Than French?

Horse Milk

Swearing off Supermarkets (Alexander Lobrano/Hungry for Paris)

Community Supported Agriculture in Paris

The Barbès Market

French Farmers Turn Champs-Elysées Into Huge Farm (BBC)

Tips for Vegetarian Dining in Paris

Stop the Stuffing!

Paris Organics

The 64 cent fish

Raw Milk Vending Machine (Americans in France)

81 comments

  • Have you tried Claravale milk in the Bay Area?

  • I feel really blessed, sometimes, to live in California, where we can get fresh local raw milk at the farmer’s market a few times a week. And it’s only upon visiting other places (like going back to the UK, where I’m from) that I realise that access to farm fresh local milk is SUCH a luxury!

    I hope you find it :).

  • I could never quite grasp the idea of buying NON-refrigerated milk when in Paris. I always threw it in the fridge when I got back to the apartment. Shelf-safe milk seemed possible…but certainly not after it was opened. Thanks for the explanation, but this half of the family still drinks his cafe NOIR!

  • Ironically the shelf stable milk tastes better cold. I keep a small container in the fridge for those times when we return late from a trip but still need milk for cereal and coffee in the morning. My real beef: My kids, who have no trouble with a bottle, cannot, for the life of them, pour milk from one of those cartons with a huge spill. Perhaps those marketing geniuses could come up with a better spout.

  • I can’t stand the smell or taste of the UHT milk here in France so I’m always buying fresh milk (and get frowned at by the French side of the family as if I’m crazy). The French husband doesn’t notice the difference between the two milks and just goes with it since I swear it’s different. I even have to bring my own fresh milk when we go to stay at the in-laws! Growing up in Australia, we really only drank fresh milk and although UHT was available, it was mostly used by seniors as they didn’t want to go shopping as often or the milk to go bad before they finished it.

  • I had trouble to find good milk to make yogurts. I did not want the fresh stuff because of the shelf life, but the UHT brands I tried were pretty bland. Actually the worse was Winny, first price, the milk tasted as chalk diluted with water, ewwww. Even the Lactel one was bland and I did not like the texture, too much watery, too thin.

    Then I discovered the whole milk from Leclerc, named “Delisse”. Wow. It tastes really good with nice milk flavors instead of chalk, and is pretty creamy with a “real milk texture”. I don’t think that it is as good as the fresh milk but I don’t know, I hardly ever tasted industrial fresh milk. But I can say that it is the best UHT milk around.

    (In the text, you talk about the plastic bottles always used in france, reading the meaning of your sentence, I bet you wanted to talked about United States instead :) ?)

  • Have you tried making Dulce de Leche with UHT milk?

  • It is truly bizarre that it seems you either get delicious raw milk cheese or fresh milk but not both.

    I’ve been to multiple events here south of San Francisco where the hosts have served raw milk cheeses smuggled in by friends returning from Paris. Unfortunately I don’t think it will work as well if we try to do the same for fresh milk when traveling the other way. :)

  • I know what you mean about the eggs projecting a false image. Greenwashing is so prevalent here in the States. Big ag gets away with so much. “Free-range” is a bogus term. And you know when Monsanto runs an ad on PBS (yes, PBS!) talking about their sustainability and being environmentally responsible, we’re in trouble. We have to do our homework to go shopping now.

  • Just filmed a documentary on dairy farmers in the UK. http://alexward.tumblr.com/post/533181970/milk

    Massively growing trend towards bottling their own milk and going organic, with some pretty good results for foodies. Worth a look in your local area to see if there are any farmers doing this.

    I can’t get enough of proper non-homogenised milk with a good ‘ol layer of cream on the top. Something that’s increasingly hard to find in supermarkets these days!

  • You know what, as much as I prefer raw milk, the Parmalat taste brings back so many childhood memories. It has a very nice sweetness to it.

  • I blame the UHT milk packaging for why my European husband can never open the cardboard milk carton properly.

    For some reason, he always opens both sides. Or, more often than not, the *wrong* side. Now he gets the half-gallon jugs and just pours to his heart’s content.

  • They still sell shelf-stable milk here in the US! (Horizon organic milk, for one, which is highly disappointing). They just put it in the cold milk case so we think we’re buying the real deal.

  • “The package, however, didn’t note if the producers were small-scale or industrial. But the site has chirping birds and happy cow logos, so I’ll assume the best. ”

    Call me a cynic, but if the packaging suggests natural and happy, assume the opposite.
    After all, there would be no point in hiring a marketing & design agency to create “the look” of a natural, animal-friendly product unless you would be contravening a trades description law by stating “this milk comes from small-scale farmers with happy herds of cows”.

  • This is such an interesting article! However, I think I’ll just stick to my milk bags in Canada.

  • Personally I’m a raw milk kind of gal. I pick mine up in glass reuseable bottles at a farm about 4 miles away every week. The cows eat grass when the weather permits so the milk changes in flavor each season, which is truly a wonderful flavor experience. The cows are also on a natural schedule, so sadly, no fresh milk in the winter.

    I personally could never drink this kind of milk since it’s boiled to death and tastes that way (I’d never eat asparagus that was cooked into oblivion, or meat either, so why milk?). My dad who lives in Colombia however gets most of his milk this way, they love their shelf-stable milk down there.

  • I always drank fresh milk the 12 years I have lived in France because my husband made the effort to locate it. Since we moved from Grenoble to Angouleme, we can hardly find fresh milk so we drink mostly UHT. At first we thought it was odd, it certainly tastes different. Now, we are used to it and used it almost exclusively. It has a nice clean but silky taste to my buds, different from fresh milk, but actually wonder if I now prefer it!

  • Fascinating food for thought. As I’m lactose intolerant I tend to rely on shelf-stable soy milk, but like you say, I don’t drink it as is. It’s more just an ingredient in oatmeal and custards. I’m also really pleased the Velib idea actually worked out – I wonder if any other countries will cotton on to such a plan one day?

  • I buy my [fresh] milk in 1L cartons because I swear that it lasts longer in a carton than in a bottle.

    UHT milk exists here in Australia but generally I think the majority of it is bought by businesses who want to keep a stocked cupboard of it for their staff rather than having to make a few trips to fill up each week. Seniors also seem to buy it a bit.

    We buy the little tiny UHT milk boxes to keep in the cupboard in case we run out of fresh milk so we still have something to put in our tea and coffee.

    Unhomogenized fresh milk seems to be gaining popularity here also. I’m seeing it slowly creep into the supermarkets.

  • So when we lived in France way back in 1985, the only decent milk available was UHT. If you tried to buy fresh milk it was invariably past the date and more often than not, soured because nobody bought it. Isn’t it funny how cultures evolve differently with something as simple as milk!

  • This is really weird, but I have allergic reactions to any milk with fat in it that’s been pasteurized. I can have nonfat pasteurized milk, but if it’s low-fat or whole my body freaks out. I can also have cheese, kefir, and yogurt with fat from pasteurized milk. And I can have whole raw milk, or pasteurized goat milk (I haven’t been able to get my hands on any raw goat milk.) So I buy raw milk for drinking and am less fussy about how cooked my cultured milk is. The ultra-pasteurized milk tastes really awful to me (like a liquid form of the skin that forms on top of cocoa) so I avoid it.

    I love the glass bottles, too. Though sometimes we are lazy about turning them back in so end up buying our groceries with bottle deposits!

  • Very interesting. I like milk a lot. I can drink it by the carton full. I love all the different things you can make from milk like yoghurt, cheese and anything with cream. I have no idea how people created all these things for the first time but I am grateful.

  • I also don’t enjoy drinking milk save for adding it to my coffee or for baking, of course. I’ve never even tried sterilized milk, but I’m sure I wouldn’t like it! Thanks for stopping by my blog :)

  • David, seriously? “Perhaps the French have a point and it is more ecologically friendly to sterilize it and save on all the refrigerated trucks used for transport and heavily chilled refrigerators lining the aisles in supermarkets.”

    With all the benefits and difference (for us and the planet) between low-pasteurized, or raw milk from grass-fed, pastured animals, compared to commercial milk, let alone UHT sterilized milk, how can you even suggest such a thing?

    Chaz

  • I can’t live without fresh milk in my coffee and i definitely don’t like sterilized milk. But i read somewhere that in the States your fresh cold milk stays for many days in the fridge without getting spoiled, and that made me wondering because usually in Italy and also in India fresh milk spoils after three days [or so they say], i never kept it longer.
    Parmalat was successful because people used to buy the full box for all week or more, but never considering that the aliveness was gone and they were drinking dead stuff – my mother was one of them after all the children left the house she started buying that and there was no way to convince her that was not good. It’s all about consciousness and being aware of what is what . .. sorry i am getting verbose, great post as usual, Ciao!

  • I like milk boxes for camping and emergencies (arriving in Inverness late and no milk for coffee in the am–what to do?), but have a difficult time finding it in the East Bay. Safeway, but not Berkeley Bowl. Grew up in Alice Springs, Aust. where we had frozen milk packages in twisted triangular waxed box packaging shipped up by rail from Adelaide.

  • Funny … I’m not a milk drinker. Never have been.

    As a result, I rarely keep milk in the house. That is, until I discovered UHT milk in “shelf-stable aseptic boxes.” When living in the developing world, buying milk could be a risky endeavor, knowing that food sanitation and refrigeration were not top of mind for many. Those boxes became a life, or if not life, a time saver. I always have at least a package of 3 half-pint boxes in the pantry for last minute recipes now.

    I’m happy for those boxes of milk and I hope America’s disinterest won’t cause them to be pulled from the shelves anytime soon, although I’m sure I wouldn’t love it if I were a milk-drinker.

  • In the states i get raw milk in glass bottles when available, or Strauss when the raw is unavailable. When I finish it off I rince the bottle and take it back to the store for a refund. Nothing tastes better, no garbage, bottles reused… well at least there’s the illusion of feel good.

    In France I’ve found the same issue with the UHT milk. It just tastes “dead” — though I have found organic cold milk in the refrigerated sections on occasion. Growing up, when I would spend vacations in France with the grandparents the choice seamed to always be UHT or raw out of a friend’s cow — nothing in between.

    I wonder if the adherence to UHT is a leftover of habits formed in WW2?

  • I don’t care much about the milk since I cook with it and basta. I am a long ago convert to UHT bricks, which are practical in the extreme for one who doesn’t use a lot of milk normally.
    What I do care about is that 30% reduction in pollution! That’s just stunning, David. A huge move. Too bad the creeps can’t get behind it, but it seems worth the repair bills to me. I lived in Washington DC during the years of changeover from high pollution to cleaner air. When I first graduated and started to work, my pantyhose would sometimes pop holes on my legs from pollution. I had an assymetric Sassoon haircut and I often got a rash in the pattern where it lay against my cheek. The Potomac was a sewer. Any steps away from that are good steps.
    (I reckon that since my carbon footprint includes dragging coffee from Africa to my kitchen, I am better to leave it black.)

  • Alice: Interestingly, when I moved to France and bought fresh milk, on the date of expiration, the milk would definitely ‘expire’. Now I find it keeps a few days after. I don’t know if they change how they process it, but it used to surprise me how quickly it would turn after the expiration date.

    Le Capitain: I was talking to some French friends about it and they said that people took to UHT milk in France, so they could stock up when they went shopping, and keep a pantry-full of milk on hand at all times, and not have to go to the supermarket. And I can see why!

    Hannah: There is a similar bike program in Barcelona as well as in Lyon and Marseille. (I think the programs actually started in Lyon, before Paris, but I’m not sure.)

    Chiot’s Run & Chaz: I like raw milk, too, and it is available in those bags (as shown in the post.) Unfortunately it’s too much milk for me, unless I’m baking with it, and it doesn’t last as long as the fresh stuff in bottles. Plus the bags are a bit unruly, but I do like the taste.

    Kate and Lentil Breakdown: There is a lot of cinema around food, even here. “Small producers” and such…when I read the packaging carefully, it just said the milk was from local dairies, but not necessarily non-industrial ones. There is an article (in French) questioning the authenticity of this milk, Lait d’ici: Acte citoyen ou coup marketing? (“Lait d’Ici: Civic Act or Marketing Coup?”)

    Romain told me this milk company (lait d’ici) was running television ads featuring idyllic children running in the fields. But if you visit their website and dig a bit, it’s the same company, Orlait, that also produces a ‘cut-price’ milk, sold in UHT boxes.

  • Here in the Touraine du Sud we get raw milk in plastic bags just like the one pictured – unpasturised, unhomogenised, delivered to our house by the laitière from her farm 3km away. We do keep a brick of UHT in the house, but it is referred to as ‘emergency milk’ and not opened if we can possibly avoid it.

  • People in America drink way too much milk. Milk should not be enjoyed as a beverage with something, but as a snack, dessert, or meal replacement. As you mentioned, it is well worth the environmental justification to hope for change in the consumption, processing, and distribution of milk worldwide. I keep different sterilized forms of milk on the shelf in the pantry for guests, and no one has ever noticed (especially kids). My kids like soy. I tend only to cook with milk products around the holidays. I think the German’s do sterilized milk well and they do not do it for lack of shelf space and they don’t do ‘skim’. Skim is a sin.

  • Great article. All of us foreign, fresh milk-loving Francophiles have pondered the origins of France’s affection for UHT. Your rationale makes perfect sense.

    What seems to be missing from the debate is the discussion of how ‘ungreen’ aseptic packaging is. Difficult and expensive, most municipalities I know do not include this packaging in their recycling. Do the French recycle their Tetra-Paks? All that milk in all those aseptic bricks can’t be good for the environment?

    Kate

  • When I first moved to the Languedoc region of France in 1996 I had two under fives and was expecting a baby. I went to several local supermarket to buy fresh milk in vain. I tried the bakers who gave me UHT and when I looked surprised she said
    ‘well this is fresh!’

    I gradually got used to UHT over the years and as we drink fulled skimmed it doesn’t seem so bad and there is the convenience of having unlimited supplies at home with 3 daughters.

    The good news is that you can get full cream fresh milk in Carrefour now and I buy it now and then for treats or special recipes. Still yummy.

  • As regards Bernard Gaborit milk, I think it is the best raw milk I found in my neighborhood. Taste of that milk resembles me taste of milk I had been drinking during my holiday in the countryside when I was a kid. Well, those greasy bulbs of cream on top I eat with the spoon. If one doesn’t like it one should boil his milk and bulbs should disappear. However, I do not use BG’s milk for drinking; I use it to make my home made cheese.The good raw milk in glass is sold at bio marche at Blvd Raspail (around 2,20 E).
    For my coffee, I use simply pasteurized milk, because it may be kept for a longer time in a fridge, and I do not drink milk except those small amounts in my morning coffee.

    In Paris, in comparison to Strasbourg, for example (I lived there for 3 years) recycling of plastic and glass is very badly organized, in some neighborhoods simply does not exist. I like this Velib idea. Paris is incredibly dirty and dusty, in comparison with other French cities it is still far, far away from being ecological friendly. However, I never use those bicycles, because I prefer to walk…

  • I am in the western suburbs of Paris and there is a vendor twice a week at the farmers’ market who sells his Lait Cru along with creme fraiche, fromage blanc and cheeses. He drives in from Normandy…so that’s local I guess. It comes in a liter bottle and lasts 3 days. I use it only in coffee so I have to buy it twice a week but it’s only 1.10. And the taste is excellent. I am suprised you can’t find lait cru at your farmers’ markets in the city.
    Move to Maisons Laffitte!

  • Unpasteurised unhomogenised full fat milk is wonderful to find in Paris. Recommend adding unpasteurised cream and yoghurt bacteria, and pour milk in small bowls let stand in room temperature for a few days. When milk has a puddinglike consistency, yellowish cream on top, one refrigerates bowls for a few hours and serves it cold (with sugar sprinkled on top for those who need it) as dessert or in the morning – as delicious as this is a healthier way of having your milk.
    Wild raspberries on the side.
    Why always milk in the coffee?? Coffee tastes much better with cream.
    Let alone cream has less sugar, the fatter the better.
    I want what the British call DOUBLE CREAM but cannot find the proper term for it in French. Anyone knows?
    anyone knows?

  • Magdalena: The City of Paris does have a way to go in terms of reducing pollution and being green, but at least they are now acknowledging and addressing the problems and have made progress.

    Personally, one project I wish they would implement is composting. Each week there are over one hundred outdoor markets in Paris and at the end, the amount of food waste that I see being swept up and tossed in the huge garbage trucks is incredible. There are tons of old fruit and vegetables, and other matter, that could easily be composted instead of being thrown out. I don’t know if this kind if initiative will ever be implemented here, but it certainly would be great, and not only reduce all that waste, but would provide a mega-amount of compost.

    Kate: Those tetra-packs can be recycled and most buildings have recycling bins. I’m not sure how they stack up next to plastic bottles, the ones fresh milk comes in, though. At least in terms of what is a better ecological option.

    memoree: There are only 2 ‘farmer’s’ markets in Paris, Batignolles and Raspail. The other markets may have some producteurs mixed in, but a majority of the produce and other things carried at them are from Rungis, the large wholesale market near the airport.

    There is a person who sells lait cru (raw milk) at my market on Sunday, which is shown in the post. Since I only use a small amount, it’s hard to justify buying such a large quantity, especially when it’s so perishable. But it is really delicious. Maybe I need to get a cow…or a larger family!

  • David, thanks a lot for the interesting post. Milk is close to our daily life wherever we’re in the world, but it’s something that is rarely mentioned in food blogs.

    I think there’s not such milk like “lait d’ici” yet in my country while UHT is not popular at all. (Well, cheap coffee shops serve what is called long life “coffee milk” to accompany hot drinks, but it’s simply a synthetic concoction without any milk components) Milk we consume daily in Japan is sold in square cartons or sometimes in glass bottles (no plastic!). 99.9% of milk available in shops, organic or not, is pasteurised, and as far as I know, the only one produced in a farm in Hokkaido, North Japan is organic and non-pasturalised. The thing is this milk is so expensive priced at JPY1,000 (EUR9.00) per bottle of 1L…

  • I really loathe people on bikes.
    I go murderous from the way they pick the sidewalk for their passage, swishing by
    pedestrians closely and in total silence.
    And in the streets they are always ignorant of traffic rules, taxi drivers assure me.

  • David,
    I love your blog, always.

    This is a bit of a random question, but since you’ve just blogged about milk I thought I’d ask and see if you have any ideas.

    I am currently living 12km south of Paris but will be relocating to Niger (west Africa) in the next year. In the village where I will be living, things I consider to be everyday items are pretty hard to come by (for example, we have to send someone into Nigeria just to buy canned peas and toilet paper) and so I’m going to have to improvise in the kitchen quite a bit.

    Fresh milk is pretty much out of the question (unless I raise my own goat), so most of the other hospital staff use dried milk powder (which actually makes some pretty yummy yogurt . . . but then again, when the Sahara is a stone’s throw from your back door, anything cold tastes divine). So I’ve been wondering how on earth do I make heavy cream from milk powder . . . in order to make ice cream and other semi-gourmet-help-me-forget-where-I’m-really-living goodies.

    Is it simply altering the powder:water ratio? But aren’t the chemical properties of cream different enough from milk to drastically effect the outcome?? This may just be one of those I’ll-just-have-to-get-there-and-experiment solutions, but figured it doesn’t hurt to ask . . . especially since you brought it up.

  • In the pâtisserie where I work, we use only the cartons of shelf-stable milk, which is fine, since it only ever gets cooked into anglaise or pastry cream anyway. But what gest me is the sheer volume of packaging that ends up in our garbage cans – despite buying the stuff in bulk, and always using liters of the stuff at a time, we still have to throw away one box per liter of milk. (When you’re making 10 liters of pastry cream a day, it adds up fast.) Makes the American model of gallon-size jugs look downright ecological by comparison.

  • deborah> you cannot make cream from milk powder :/.

    milk is basicaly 4 things combined : water, fat, casein (white proteins), sugar.

    Heavy cream is a product from milk with less water and a little less of the casein => cream is fat (30 to 60%) suspended in water and casein. Taking that water away by beating the cream would give butter (close to “fat only”).

    The problem is that milk powder is made of casein and sugar, almost exclusively. Usualy the powdered milk you found is skimmed : no fat => no cream.

    If you try to add a lower amount of water in the milk powder, you’ll get concentrated milk (pretty good for yogurts and VERY good for dulce de leche :D). If the milk powder is not skimmed, then you’ll have full fat concentrated milk…but still not some heavy cream. see ?

    I think you want to look for david’s panna cotta recipe, made with concentrated milk from milk powder, it should be delicious and “close” to the silkiness of heavy cream…(better than nothing :/ !). After all, light and diet creams are made this way : concentrated milk and gelatin.

  • I’m not a fan of UHT milk either, I agree that it tastes dead, which is disappointing because I love the vibrance of fresh milk. What UHT milk is good for, though, is yogurt. I grew up eating homemade yogurt which was made daily – we didn’t use a yaourterie, we actually used a really simple method, which involves heating milk, either in a microwave or on the stove, stirring in some of the previous day’s yogurt and leaving it to set in a cool, dark place. We always used UHT, because it didn’t have any impurities or other bacteria which could interfere with the process. Using UHT meant achieving thick, reliable yogurt each time. It still makes a pretty good yogurt, you can’t really tell the difference.

  • Now that’s really interesting. When we’ve stayed in Paris I’ve always found the milk to be, well, just horrible! I bet it was UHT having read your post. I made the assumption (wrongly I see now) that the milk would be fresh and local becuase of the raw cheeses.

    One of my friends buys UHT cream, which she serves with desserts as she thinks it tastes the same as normal cream – and much more convenient. I’m not used to it, and to me it’s just plain vile.

  • Interesting look at milk. Here in Manitoba (Canada), most of our milk comes from Ontario even though we have lots of dairy cows here! I’m pretty sure that our milk gets shipped away to be processed and packaged and then comes back here. We have a new milk plant here now, but it only processes organic milk, which is great, but is sold at such a high price that most people can’t afford it. Why is it so hard to just go back to eating food from near where we live??

    And I totally agree with you about the UHT milk tasting dead. When I lived in France I stopped drinking milk because I hated the taste of it. When my parent’s in law came to visit us here, they loved the milk and said it reminded them of the lait frais they drank as children.

  • Good timing, David! I am currently trying out different skimmed milks in coffee having used organic powdered milk for years and heard of the processing making digestion more difficult. And indeed, there is little choice in the supermarket as far as organic milk goes so it’s off to the organic food shops next week.

    And yes, we really have to watch out for the unscrupulous riding this latest band wagon. So much more difficult when living in a big city.

    @kerstin
    In France, there is no double/thick cream as we know it. As far as I know, ALL cream here has a bacteria culture added to it. However, you can find cheesemakers who make very mild crême fraiche. I found one at the Friday market in Roanne but had to endure being called ‘greedy’ when I asked for a taste!
    Carrefour’s UHT thin, whippable cream in red boxes has a very authentic cream taste and even forms a yummy layer on top. And, btw, Carrefour’s boxed créme anglais is excellent.
    I must say that I am now very much used to the tanginess of crême fraiche and find that it is more digestible as is the case with most, if not all fermented foods. However, I only notice this with organic crême fraiche: cheapo brands with other additives like gelatine only make me feel ill.

    At one point I thought of going to a local dairy and asking them to put aside a jar of non inocculated cream (if possible) for me but having to achieve this by car put me off.

    What I really miss here is soured cream with its distinctive flavour and texture. It must be made with a different bacteria.

    @deborah
    Tinned double cream exists, I think produced by Nestlé. Can’t remember whether I’ve seen it in France or not. If it is available here, probably only in supermarkets servicing rural communities.

  • There is no contest as far as I am concerned between UHT and fresh milk – we just cannot stand the flavour of UHT. You cannot hide the taste in tea or coffee and I would never want to drink it on its own.

    When on holiday in France we always hunt down fresh milk – it can be difficult but seems to be getting easier as all the big super/hypermarches now stock it though not in huge quantities. Sometimes it is gone late in the day but not very often now. In emergencies I have been known to go to every shop I can see, turning down offers of UHT on the way, until I get what I want. In hotels and motel stopovers I am the Englishwoman who takes fresh milk from our travel fridge to breakfast – I have given up trying to explain that I want fresh not UHT in my drink!

    One gripe about fresh milk though: in the UK we can get 1, 2, 4 or 6 pint containers (and more often it is available in metric versions too) but in France I wish we could buy bottles of fresh milk smaller than 1 or 2litres. We are in Paris this week and just want a little to go with our evening hotel drinks yet will probably end up buying a 1L and wasting most of it!

    hopeeternal

  • I am EXTREMELY lucky. I have my own milk cow. A Jersey, named Buttercup. Her milk is incredible. And her cream in my coffee. Just the best. And of course I drink it raw.
    If I could no longer keep a cow, I would have to buy raw milk from someone local because I could NEVER go back to conventional milk. You just can’t go back.

    I will be making some ice cream bases today and then have fresh ice cream tomorrow.

  • If you keep an eye out, you can frequently buy pasteurized, but not homogenized, milk at farm stores. It’s not consistent, but boy oh boy is it good when you find it.

    I have found that UHT milk works in the frother of my Nespresso machine far better than fresh milk. I keep UHT on hand just so I never get caught out, and one night put it through the Nespresso as I was out of fresh. Lovely, thick foam…so now I only use UHT in the espresso machine.

    We drink fresh milk as much as possible…if the UHT is cold, it’s at least bearable, but we usually save it for IN something, as the cooked/sweet taste just doesn’t seem right to us.

  • I think UHT has at least 95% of the Spanish market – it’s very difficult to find the real stuff here. But I only use milk in my tea, and occasionally in a white sauce. Weird.

  • I love Paris’ Velib system and I am a very responsible bike rider stopping at red lights and yielding to cars. I cannot imagine a better way to get around this beautiful city.

    As for the UHT milk, it takes getting used to, but after 2 years here, my taste buds have adapted….though I do buy fresh milk when making nice desserts like riz au lait where milk is a main ingredient.

  • It’s probably already been said, but: most people I know here (Paris) buy UHT milk mostly because they don’t go shopping often enough to buy fresh milk AND have milk at all time at their place.
    When I stayed in NYC, I got a very bad surprise when I tried to keep my gallon of fresh milk for more than a week..

    Oh, and the “velib” concept has first been implemented in Lyon.

  • My husband (French) drinks the sterilized milk mostly, I think, because it lasts forever without going sour. He often forgets to put it back in the frig after using it in his coffee and still it lives on. I used to hate it in cereal but can now use it but, then, I seldom even eat cereal anymore. I use evaporated milk for my mashed potatoes-I love that flavor.

  • Adrien: Yes, the Vélib’ concept was implemented in Lyon first. The program also exists in Marseille, too.

    Linda: I see cafés that simply leave their sterilized milk that they use for their coffee on the countertop all day.

    Stephanie & suedoise: Worse than the bikes are the scooters. At red lights, they sit there and rev their engines (which they take great joy in doing when you walk in front of them, in the crosswalk). They fly down the sidewalks at high-speed, scattering pedestrians in all directions, and weave through traffic, oblivious to anything in their path. Worse, the kids take the mufflers off their scooters so they make that horrible noise. Talk about having a Napoléanic complex!

    hopeeternal: Candia makes pints of fresh (low-fat) milk, but they’re not so easy to find. The Monop’ chain of stores usually carries them.

  • There are actually “many” cities in France that now have this self service velos thing. Nantes, for sure, and I think Rennes as well.

    As for the milk, I just remembered another issue I had in NYC: 95% of the milk I could find was “fat free” or “low fat”, making it taste like it was mixed with water (eeeeww). Was I just too dumb to find the real milk, or does everyone drink low fat milk in the States?

  • Plastic bottles are more practical than carton ‘briques’ because they are recloseable, This is useful in professional kitchens where we need to be able to reseal open packets. This is probably why they are so prevalent. You do get used to the taste of UHT, but I grab fresh whenever I see it, as a treat – but it is shocking how quickly it goes off! Down here in Perpignan they have reasonably recently introduced the bike system, but I heard that they earmark a fairly hefty deposit off your carte bleue until you return it – given that it is a university city, this renders the system really impractical. What student has a spare couple of hundred euros sitting in their account!!

  • Parmalat came into the US and bought one of the big local dairies in New Jersey–Welsh Farms, and then destroyed it. When we lived there, you always knew that the milk was great, ice cream was the best around. And then, nothing. Their business methods destroyed them both in Italy and a nice US company.
    Living in Massachusetts now for the past 5 years, I found Hood again–you might remember the name and their milk is packaged in plastic “light block” bottles. It is refrigerated, but something does make a huge difference and it lasts a lot longer. Yes, American supermarkets put a lot of energy into refrigeration of meats, products and dairy–but don’t forget, that we don’t shop daily as the French seem to do. We finally also learned and are doing more recycling as well.
    I will take the cold milk. Anything else is fake.

  • David, I find that UHT goat’s milk tastes better than UHT cow’s. I buy it in little rectangular boxes at Biocoop.

    My fromagerie (at Marche Couvert St. Martin) sells fresh raw cream, but I’m not positive about their milk.

    Would love a post about garlic, given all the lovely fresh bulbs around this month. I just bought my first one today and wow.

  • I am happy to hear I am not the only one who noticed how, in the latest years, ‘fresh’ milk is still perfectly drinkable after the due date. When I was a child, it was often sour even before it. Also, here in Germany the due date for fresh milk is farther away than in other countries (eg Italy): usually it lasts for a couple of weeks. Isn’t there some kind of European regulation on what you can sell for ‘fresh’? Anyway, I maily use milk for making yoghurt, and for that, the fresher the better. I once tried doing it with raw milk and the result was amazing, but I don’t find any raw milk here..

  • you know if france went digital w/ all their paperwork, then you’d have double the trouble, right? i mean, you’re internet service provider is always screwing w/ you ~ add that headache to the problem of triplicate paperwork… :D

  • PS: UHT milk is becoming more popular in the states… at least where i live in atlanta. i love it in coffee, but then again, my “cream”-of-choice is evaporated milk, so i like the nutty sweetness (aka “dead flavor”) contributed. i agree w/ you about drinking it, though: i tried it w/ cereal once and couldn’t choke down more than a few bites.

  • kayce: I did a talk with an author friend the other night, who said that “You can’t consider yourself really living in Paris until you’ve gone through switching internet providers.” After all my nightmares with Numericable, I am with a new service, which is mostly excellent. So I welcome city hall to join the 20th century, as well!

    Adrien: I actually think the program in Rennes was prior to the Paris (or Lyon) programs, and was tied in with either the train station or the parking facilities, in order to reduce congestion. It’s called Velo Star now.

    Sandra: I loved the glass 1/2-gallon bottles of milk that we used to get delivered when I was a kid. Straus organic dairy in San Francisco has them, and it’s something I remember fondly, too.

    Tania: I was initially excited to find goat milk at the supermarket. But I tried it (it was UHT) and the flavor was lacking, in my opinion. I would like to get some fresh, and folks tell me that vendors at some of the organic outdoor markets often carry it.

    Chefinheels: In Paris, a €150 caution (security deposit) is levied against your credit card when you sign up for the bike program. The ensures the bikes will be returned! If it didn’t exist, am not sure there would be many bikes left by the end of the first day : 0

  • It is interesting to watch France struggle with the same issues about industrial food as Americans – some of the solutions are the same, and some are quite different. I tend to have more faith in the French than the Americans to get it figured out sooner, but who knows? At any rate, I’m jealous of the velib’ program!

  • In Northwest Tuscany, in the Garfagnana area, it is possible to buy raw milk from automatic dispensers (you bring your own bottle and fill it up). Sadly I have a psychological rejection of pure milk but enjoy a “caffè macchiato” or a cappuccino when I have breakfast in the bar. All the bars in the area serve Alta Qualità (High Quality) milk which I understand is produced locally and it is lightly pastorised. I cannot remember local bars serving UHT milk but I was quite shocked to see UHT milks in Cafes in Paris.

    I love your blog
    Regards
    Enzo

  • We use UHL milk, which we refer to as box milk, mostly because it’s only my husband and myself, for coffee and tea in the morning. No matter how small the cartons of fresh milk, they always went bad, so it seemed better to buy box milk and not be wasting it, or even worse, pouring bad milk into your early morning tea. Not anyone’s idea of an idylic morning.

  • Icy Violet: Yes, the French have the same issues that the rest of the world (including America) has. Americans have that “can-do” attitude, hence the new do-it-yourself folks who are making their own chocolate, charcuterie, and other stuff in the states. The French, like Americans, strayed far from their agricultural roots and in fact, France is the third largest users of pesticides in the world (after the US and China).

    I think there is now a growing consciousness of what has happened here and there are steps to reverse that. One is offering a milk like this, touting the ‘local’ angle. Unfortunately it is somewhat of a marketing ploy, but if enough people start demanding fresh, locally-produced milk (and other products) they’ll likely become more available. Let’s hope so!

  • Actually, most milk in the US is now UHT, even though it is still refrigerated!!! Even Horizon Organic milk is ultra-pasteurized, I believe that’s the new term for UHT. Their milk boxes for kids are advertised as “aseptic” and not needing refrigeration. This is something I have noticed in the last 5 years or so, when milk stopped going bad so quickly. A careful reading of most labels shows they are now almost all ultra-pasteurized, and therefore don’t need refrigeration, although they keep doing so to keep consumers happy (and duped).

  • I always thought the preference for fresh milk over sterilized one was a anglosaxon thing, as I’ve heard it from the UK and Ireland as well. I don’t know about the rest of Europe but I hazard a guess that in Germany most folks buy sterilized milk as well. At least I never see the fresh one in other households.

    Tastewise, it’s just what you are more used to. I even prefer the sterilized one, as I don’t like the “fatty” taste of fresh milk.

    However, I’ ve heard that fresh milk is better for your body, would you know anything about that by chance?

  • My milk drinking days are long behind me, having developed an addictive habit for homemade almond milk as a replacement. However I did need to shop for some recently for a tea-drinking Brit recently and was surprised that the local health food store (Naturalia) didn’t stock any. I was shown the nuke-u-lar milk in the package (non, merci) and then told that the ‘lait frais’ would not be available for a few days. Very suprising given the emphasis on fresh products here.

    Anyway David, maybe les francais figure why waste all that refrigerated space in the supermarket on fresh milk …it’s all being used for the yogurt aisle ….Woah …!

  • I lived in Chile in the early 90s. My Chilean host family bought aseptic milk for me. The second day, the milk was sour. I had to explain to Sandra that once the milk is opened, it has to be kept cold. Nasty. It also doesn’t taste good unless it is cold.

    I later worked in the packaging industry for a competitor of TetraPak. Lack of a cold chain in the distribution system is what keeps a lot of places on aseptic milk. At the time I was working, there was no good recycling option because the paper from the carton has to be stripped from the metal and other layers. It is very expensive packaging compared to plastic milk jugs made from a blow molder.

    I buy a gallon of milk at a time now and put 3/4 of it into the freezer in plastic quart bottles. It tastes just fine after it’s thawed.

  • I find myself in a quandary here in my small French town: do I buy fresh “industrial” milk or UHT “Bio” milk? Sigh…
    But I have a question about cream. I find that it’s even harder to find fresh crème liquide than it is to find fresh milk. I’ve been forced to buy the UHT cream on occasion and find that it won’t whip properly. Have you had that problem? Any fixes?
    Thanks!

  • Have you read Zola’s The Belly of Paris? There’s a wonderful passage about returning the compost from Les Halles to a farm. It’s hard to believe that the French, as thrifty as they are, have abandoned green manure.

    “Vegetable peelings, the mud of Les Halles, the refuse that had fallen from that giant table, were still alive, and they were now being returned to the place where the vegetables had first sprung from the ground, to nourish new generations of cabbages and carrots and turnips. Paris made everything rot and returned everything to the earth, which never wearied of repairing the ravages of death.

    ‘Ah!’ exclaimed Claude, ‘here’s a cabbage stalk I’m sure I’ve seen before. It has sprouted up at least a dozen times over there by that apricot tree.’ ”

  • Update! Just back from Paris and pleased to report that we were able to get half litre cartons of fresh milk (half fat) in Shopi and also Carrefour. There was also a Monop’ nearby (Pigalle Metro) but we didn’t need to look for the Candia. Thanks for the info.

    Had a wonderful slice of Normandy Apple Flan (a thick wodge of custard in a pastry shell with generous shreds of apple on top). I’d love to find a recipe for this but can only find ones for the tarts with circles of apple slices on top. Also had a lovely Pear Tart with Pistachios used instead of the almonds for the usual frangipane filling – think I will be experimenting with that one! Any ideas where I can find recipes for these would be much appreciated! Wish we could bring a few of your wonderful patisseries home with us to London!!

    hopeeternal

  • hopeeternal: There’s a pistachio frangipan tart on the cover of Eric Kayer’s book, Sweet and Savory Tarts, which is likely exactly what you’re looking for.

    Karen: I’m reading that book right now! It’s really interesting to look at Paris 150 years ago, especially the area of Les Halles.

    Maria: Although the bio (organic) milk is available, I just really dislike sterilized milk (UHT) so I don’t buy it. I’ve had mixed results with various creams in France for whipped. The crème liquide I find in supermarkets in plastic (*sigh*) bottles seems to work best.

  • I did not comment earlier because I hadn’t truly tried both types of milk. And I kinda thought people had to be crazy to notice a big dfifference between the milks. Boy was I wrong! I drink fresh milk at home, but we keep the shelf stable milk at work because we go through it so quickly (a liter a day just for coffee). I don’t notice the difference in my coffee, but I tried it in cereal for the first time this week. And YUCK! It tastes warm and bland even when it’s cold. I appreciate the stability of the UHT pasturized milk, but I’ll stick to the fresh milk whenever possible.

  • my brother and parents live in France and when we visit my milk guzzling American husband does nothing but whine and complain about how vile the milk is. even the fresh stuff. in fact, he says that if not for the milk, he would move to France in a heartbeat.

  • I live in Gaillard, France in the Haute Savoie. Around here many towns have milk distribution stands where you can buy fresh, local, unpasteurized milk by the deciliter (10 centimes per deciliter – so a good price, too!). Do they not have this in Paris?

  • mylene2k: Unfortunately we don’t. But it would be great and I would certainly patronize them and buy their milk if they did.

  • Is the “fresh” milk in Paris just pasteurized and not UHT? Is the full fat of this kind available? I drink a lot of milk (U.S. style) so I am worried and I will be moving there soon. Can anyone suggest where/what to look for it? Thank you.

  • Fresh milk exists in Paris (the bottle on the right is fresh, pasteurized milk) and it is found is every grocery store. You can get regular (full fat) or lowfat varieties.