One of my abiding primary school memories is of those days in deep winter, when snow or frost tinged the Colne Valley hills and our school milk, in its squat glass bottles with silver foils lids, would arrive at our desks partially frozen. I adored using the thin, blue plastic straw to pierce the cap, crush up the ice and suck out the creamy, freezing milk. I would also be the first to try and grab the leftover bottles from those strange children who , despite the teachers’ best attempts to get them to imbibe the cold creaminess, were making gagging actions and refusing to drink it.
I have always loved milk, fresh and chilled it’s a simple pleasure. However, should it veer even slightly from these two imperative characteristics I find myself overcome with nausea and a feeling of horror and dread. Just a hint of being the wrong side of fresh or heated anywhere above fridge cold, I can’t stand the stuff. Heating it for cooking is fine, but don’t ask me to taste it before it’s gone in the roux/custard/coffee etc and invite me round and ask me to make my own tea or coffee and I will smell your milk before I use it.
So as you can imagine, Spain’s love affair with Ultra Heat Treated (UHT) milk leaves me slightly dumfounded. Whole aisles of supermarkets are taken up with milk that even when cold tastes like it’s warm. Eurgh!
There is wonderous variety, the whole, semi-skimmed, skimmed selection we’re used to, but also varieties from different regions of the country and those with calcium and extra vitamins added. Even cream isn’t sacred, no point looking in the chiller cabinet for that as it’s also had a zapping and will be standing proudly next to the tetrabrics.
The fresh stuff barely gets a look in, a few paltry bottles squashed in between the Sunny Delight and margarine. I’ve had to learn to tolerate the UHT sort, there’s no popping for a pint of fresh milk at 10.30pm at night here but it’ll only cross my lips if it’s a dribble in tea or overwhelmed by the strong coffee I’ve been drinking. If it’s for cereal or to enjoy in a glass it doesn’t get a look in.
So why the adoration of this kind of milk? My guess is it’s a hangover from the days, in the not too distant past as well, when many families didn’t have refrigeration in their homes. Unlike Britain where our cool climate would’ve meant milk lasted relatively well, the higher seasonal temperatures and sweltering summer would’ve soured it in less than a few hours. I’ve also seen UHT milk as the predominant product on the shelves of stores in Italy and Greece so am convinced this is a strong theory. As times have changed and now a fridge is a standard feature of most homes there’s no need for it, but the taste lingers on. If it’s all you’ve ever known why would you change, childhood memories of milk and biscuits are probably as strong as my iced school milk and maybe, just maybe, to people here my adorable fresh milk tastes as foul as their UHT one does to me.