Confession: I Hate Italian Milk

Here in Bra, the heart (and physical headquarters) of Slow Food-landia, people are raised from birth to eat locally, cook with raw, unprocessed ingredients, and buy from small, independent producers. Great, these are philosophies that I have tried to uphold all along, so it’s not like I have suddenly been told to wear a burka.

Well, today I am going to go rogue and fess up about something that has been irritating the hell out of me: Italian milk. It sucks.

To provide some background, there are two grades of Italian milk: intero (whole) and parzialmente scremato (similar to 2%). I’ve been buying the latter and it tastes good, but honestly I would be happier with skim milk. Also, Italian milk is sold in supermarkets in paper cartons or plastic bottles in either half-liter or liter sizes. When I first saw this, I was somewhat dismayed, since this is a quantity that would last me through maybe four bowls of cereal. Where is the gallon jug that is so ubiquitous in American grocery stores? Don’t they need to make lots of cappucinos every morning?

Soon afterwards, I discovered why the milk is only sold in tiny containers: it spoils incredibly quickly. Though the expiration dates on U.S. milk jugs are marked for about two weeks in the future (and oftentimes the milk is good even beyond this date), Italian milk cartons indicate sell by dates about 3 days away. And unlike with American milk, that date is Serious Business. On multiple occasions, I have drunk milk from a carton one day before the expiration date, only to discover the next morning that it has curdled. Sometimes this discovery occurs as I absentmindedly pour chunky milk into my bowl of cereal, and shovel a spoonful into my mouth.

The milk comes from local dairy farms in Piemonte, so shouldn’t it be even fresher and last longer than milk in the U.S.?

Spoilage speed aside, another reason milk is sold in small packages may be due to the size of European refrigerators. Like cars, refrigerators here are about half the size of their American counterparts, and there would simply be no space for a gallon-size container.

I was whining about the short shelf-life of my milk to one of my flatmates, who suggested the bricks of UHT (ultra-high-temperature processing) milk. This is shelf-stable milk that does not need to be refrigerated (until the carton is opened) and lasts for 6-9 months. It also tastes terrible, like the milk has been cooked.

Both American and European producers pasteurize their milk, so I don’t think that explains the milk spoilage speed. I mean, for chrissakes’ they invented pasteurization over here.

On the plus side, the yogurt over here is excellent, and lasts for at least a couple weeks.

10 thoughts on “Confession: I Hate Italian Milk

  1. Don’t you realize that milk containers are all the same all over the world except in the US … Did you ever see gallon jug while in Japan? The milk that curdles within countable hours is real milk… US milk is weird haha I think it takes 1 months to go bad…

  2. I’m an italian guy in Los Angeles, and i’m probably the biggest milk fan.

    I am in the exact opposite situation than you are, and i really, really can’t understand how american people can drink this milk. I’ve tried all of them, at Ralphs, Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, Trader Joes and so on… None of them tastes or even looks like milk.

    The reason why american milk can be sold in gallon packages is because it’s chemically processed to last longer. Fresh milk lasts about 3 days refrigerated without O2 contact (not opened) and about 1 day if opened. Italian fresh milk is just pasteurized and taken from the cow to the final package in total absence of air. (this would let you drink milk without preservatives and at the same time without getting sick 🙂 ).

    Another weird thing i’ve seen with american milk is that if you pour a glass and then put the package back in the fridge, after a few hours you can see some kind of “milk powder” all around the cap (which i don’t know the reason). Also, fresh milk (that lasts 2-3 days) doesn’t exist at all in the US, because they call fresh milk the gallon pack you find in the refrigerator at the store.

    So… I’d say i’d rather walk even 5 miles a day to buy real fresh milk than drink modified milk with chemicals in it 🙂

    p.s. if americans had to go to the store every 2 days to buy healthy natural food, they probably wouldn’t be as fat 😛

    1. Well, I think this is a case where you want whatever food you’re accustomed to, even if it isn’t the “right” one. That is how I justify eating Skippy Super Chunk peanut butter.

      At any rate, a few weeks after I wrote that post, I discovered that Coop carries not 3 but 4 kinds of milk: fresco (shelf life of 2-3 days), pastorizzato (5-6 days), pastorizzato microfiltrato (2 weeks), and UHT (never dies). So I’ve been buying the pastorizzato microfiltrato, which is pretty comparable in taste and shelf life to the US stuff, and have been happy with that. I don’t know if the extra microfiltration step is something that the US does automatically with all milk, but it seems to double the shelf life of Italian milk.

      Interestingly, if you read the Wikipedia articles on pasteurization, the English article says that standard HTST-treated milk lasts 2-3 weeks, while the Italian article says HTST milk lasts for 6 days. Yet, they both say the process involves heating the milk to 72 C for 15 seconds. So, I’m not sure what else accounts for the difference–microfiltration or other chemicals or something else.

      I think the milk powder is just milk that dripped around the cap and dried. And it is a shame that raw milk or less pasteurized milk isn’t an option in the US. I am impressed that an average supermarket in Italy carries 4 kinds of milk.

      P.S. Fact. I have seen no fat Italians in Italy. Ever.

  3. your article about italian milk makes me loughing a little bit, overall when you wrote: “The milk comes from local dairy farms in Piemonte, so shouldn’t it be even fresher and last longer than milk in the U.S.?”. is Location of milk production connected with longevity? Moreover, have you been asked you what will happen to the ecosystem if any world citizen would drink as much milk as an american citizen? at the end what about the fact that small milk producers, better quality, cannot be competitive because consumers prefer spend less money and buy more low quality milk, like american consumers and the italian cnsumers? this would be an interesting topic?

  4. Funny ;P. while I too love my American milk, on a recent trip to Rome, my daughter and I both came away saying how great the milk was. It seemed whiter and creamier than American milk. I drink 1% in the US and the extra chemical content doesn’t bother me in the least. If you want to see milk with chemicals, you should see the milk the US sells in the commissaries overseas. It has about a 3 month expiation date, as it is “ultra-pasteurized” like the little creamers for your coffee ; )

    1. I have also found this topic of milk very interestingly funny! I travelled to northern Italy last spring. I have always enjoyed milk, preferably 1% or fat-free. But, I must admit that I am not much of a pudding or cooked milk fan. While traveling the upper 5 regions from Milan to Venice, I enjoyed the fresh milk in my coffee to eating panna cotta to also appreciating Gorgonzola. Sorry, we may not ever really decipher what the technical differences are, however, italian dairies are doing it better. Would be nice to get it here in the states, but then that 3 day expiration estimate wouldn’t be quite worth the import fees!!

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