Warm milk in the EU is probably one of the hardest things for us expats to grasp and get used to. I cannot tell you have many times I have heard the phrase, “What’s with the boxes of warm milk?!”
I’m not going to lie – when I first moved to Europe over ten years ago, I searched high and low for cold milk. I didn’t care that it cost more. I didn’t care that it was hard to find. After all, what is worse than warm milk?! Is warm milk even safe? It can’t possibly be healthy! What does it taste like? Is it powdered? Is it natural? It must be full of chemicals. “Oh my gosh,” I thought. “I just can’t bring myself to buy this milk!”
Sidenote – I’m a rebel. I still put my eggs in the fridge no matter what the EU people say. Some habits are just impossible to break.
Expat life calmed down and everything stopped feeling so different. To my fellow expats – this will happen, I promise. Eventually, I started to re-evaluate my relationship with warm milk.
Has warm milk ever hurt me or my family? Has warm milk ever talked badly about me? Has warm milk actually done anything to make me hate it so much? Am I being a bigot against warm milk?
What kind of example am I setting for my kids to hate something without even trying it? Does the temperature of the milk even matter? Do I like my milk to be the same as back home because that is what I know?
Those are questions we have to ask ourselves, on numerous occasions, when living the expat life. I really had to dig deep for this one; so, what did I do? I Googled it, of course.
Here is the deal on the freakin’ warm milk. There are three kinds of milk:
1. Raw fresh milk – I know, I know, taboo and illegal in the USA. Crappy law if you ask me. Even the Telegraph has an opinion! If I can find fresh milk, I will buy fresh milk. When in Lithuania, we always buy farm fresh milk, and it is the BOMB! It tastes great and has no chemicals. The shelf life is short but worth it. When we lived in the Czech Republic, we also bought fresh milk. They have these cute little machines with cows on the front – those are the fresh milk dispensers. Every few days, we would take our glass bottles and fill them up with fresh milk. It was the best milk in the world! I have not found any of these machines in Germany, but if I do, I am lining up to fill my bottles!
2. Pasteurized milk – This is the norm for those from the USA. So, what is pasteurized milk? Traditional pasteurization heats milk to at least 161°F for 15 seconds. This is called high temperature/short time or HTST pasteurization. This type of pasteurization removes about 99.9% of the bacteria in the milk. Once the milk is heated, it is cooled and needs refrigerated. This is because the .1% of left-over bacteria can multiply and grow in the milk if not kept cold. With 99.9% of the bacteria removed, the milk has a shelf life of about 16-21 days from the time it is packaged. The Huff Post has another in-depth comparison of milks.
3. Ultra-pasteurized milk – You know, milk in a box. This is the most popular type of milk processing across Europe and actually around the rest of the world. Shhh… I know. Don’t tell us Americans. This type of pasteurization is called Ultra High Temperature or UHT pasteurization. The milk is heated to 280°F for two seconds, eliminating practically 100% of the bacteria in the milk. UHT milk is normally packaged in air-proof, light-proof, sterile containers. This milk does not have to be refrigerated until it is opened. The ultra milk can have a shelf life of up to six months, prior to being opened.
Of course, milk never lasts that long in my house – so why would I want to buy milk that lasts six months? Well, here are a couple of things I found out about UHT milk. First, it is not the evil villain I originally thought it was. My family and I actually prefer the taste of the UHT milk over HTST milk – weird, I know. We don’t drink it warm; we just buy it warm and put each carton in the fridge as we need it. Remember – even if you buy it warm, it still has to be refrigerated once you open it.
This brings me to another point of why I like it – we do not normally have a large refrigerator in Europe. So, my space for gallons of milk is, um, nonexistent. We buy UHT in one-liter cartons (1/4 gallon for those of us who are metrically challenged.) I normally buy a large box of 12, one-liter cartons of milk because I am not a fan of going to the store every single day; however, I cannot fit 12 cartons of milk into my little fridge. The problem is, we need a lot of milk because my kids drink enough to keep a small dairy farm in business.
The worst thing is getting the kids ready for school and hearing a blood curdling scream from the kitchen – “MOM, THERE IS NO MILK!” Immediately, the world is ending, thunder crashes, and both my boys are going to drop dead of a lactose deficiency at any moment. Then, there is Amber – my blonde dragon of a child who will start throwing things and screaming if she is not immediately served milk.
Well, I have tricked them all because now there is always a box of milk in the house. House rule: If you drink the last of the milk, put a new one in the fridge. Tahhh dahhh! There is always milk. I am like a milk superhero! I need a shirt that reads: SUPERMILK MOM. Gone forever are the morning runs to the corner store, in the snow, to get some milk – Boooya!
Healthy or not?
The next thing you are going to say is, let me guess – it is not as healthy. So, answer me this – how is killing the extra .1% of bacteria making this milk unhealthy? How can improving shelf life be a bad thing? Did I mention that since it does not need to be transported and stored in refrigeration units, it is actually cheaper to purchase? I also have to say that when it comes to healthy, the EU has a big jump on us American folks. Check out this graph below, courtesy of Organic Valley Milk Company, which states that there is absolutely no vitamin or health difference between HTST or UHT milk.
Here is a tidbit of information you may not like. If you are American, and a little squeamish, maybe you should skip this paragraph – it is going to break a lot of expat hearts, but I feel it is my duty to reveal the dirty (and warm) secret. Sit down for this one. Did you know that many of the all-natural, organic milk companies in the USA actually use UHT pasteurization?
I know, I know – you need a tissue and few minutes to get over this blatant betrayal, but it’s true!
Horizon Organic and Organic Valley are two of the main culprits. I know you need proof, so be sure to check out their websites or buy some. You just might like it. They even make organic chocolate and organic strawberry milk!
I have to say that my kids and I now have an ongoing love affair with UHT milk.
It has raised my confidence. It has turned me into a superhero. It is dependable. It is always there for me. It never acts spoiled. It is in this relationship for the long haul. It never smells bad, even after a long, hard day. It is very quiet and unassuming and there when you need it. I had to apologize to the UHT milk, several times, for my unnecessary hate and discontent – I hope it will eventually forgive me.
As you know, I have a quick tongue and sarcastic wit, and I hope everyone finds this fun and enlightening. Whether you love or hate boxed milk, at least you know the true facts now, and maybe it does not seem so different to you after all! If you are coming to visit or live in the EU, warm milk is just a way of life.
What do you think of the warm milk in the EU? I would love to hear your thoughts and first time milk experiences in Europe.
If you want to read our info on those nasty, dirty eggs in the EU, click here –> Dirty Eggs.
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