Saturday, May 8, 2010

Homogenized Milk

Since I ran out of orange juice and haven't gotten around to shopping yet, I've been drinking milk with my breakfast the past few days. I love milk. When I lived on campus and ate in the dining hall, my friends could ascertain what sort of day I was having by the type and quantity of milk I would be drinking. No milk or one glass of skim or 2% - good day. Two glasses of 2% or one glass of whole milk - bad day. Two or more glasses of whole milk - bring out the troupes for battle, it's going to be bloody. I just find something very comforting in a glass of cold milk. Oh, and don't get me started on abominations such as "chocolate milk" ... if you want chocolate - eat some, if you want milk - drink milk.

Anyway, drinking my milk at breakfast, I've been reminded of something I'm not looking forward to about next year. Non-homogenized milk. Those in the States have probably never experienced such a thing - minus farm-fresh which isn't pasteurized either. Milk is hugely different in Europe. Now, you're probably thinking "it's milk, how different can it be?" Well, let's start with it's form, or the form of its container at least. Milk comes in bags. In the grocery store, when you go to get some milk, it's in the cooler section piled in thick plastic liter bags. This is handy when carrying it home on the bus (most people don't have cars - I definitely won't) because it conforms more to the shape of your shopping bag - think of a bag of cereal vs. a box. The plastic is pretty think so, unless you try to, it's not likely to break. On arriving home, the milk goes in the fridge - piled in the bags. When you want to open a new milk (which is more often than here since it mostly comes in 1 liter bags), the bag is placed in a pitcher and the corner is snipped off. Then the milk is poured, out of the bag sitting in the pitcher, into your coffee, cereal, glass, etc. If it sounds complicated, it's really not. Just takes some getting used to. Of course, there are some places you can get cartons of milk. They tend to be more expensive and a pain to drag across town on the bus (or even just up the hill from a little neighborhood grocery). And then, there is the joy (translation - nastiness) that is UHT milk. I won't take the time to go into detail but think semi-foamy, strange aftertaste, never actually cold milk. Yuck!

The biggest difference, however, is the homogenization - or lack thereof. I'm not entirely sure, but I believe all milk sold commercially in the US has to be homogenized. Very different from pasteurization (which is required in Hungary just like here), homogenization isn't so much a health issue as a preference. Through homogenization, the milk fat is broken up into minuscule fragments which stay mixed throughout the milk. This is why one shakes orange juice before pouring, but not milk. In homogenized milk, there is nothing to redistribute. Non-homogenized milk acts differently. Because the milk fat is not homogeneously mixed into the liquid, some of it separates and clings to the side of the bag. Rather nasty. The result is milk which is not as creamy as that which has been homogenized. Sure, I'll drink it and I'll get used to it quickly enough, but in case you were wondering if there is anything I like better here and will miss next year.... look no further than the dairy aisle.

And now you know, probably more than you really cared, about the differences between American and Hungarian milk. Don't you feel enlightened?


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