08 January 2011

Top of the Milk

The Swiss village of Uetendorf isn’t that big, yet it has a couple of fairly large supermarkets. But there is a large underground car park, free to use for less than an hour, so the supermarkets attract customers from a much larger hinterland. Migros mostly has it’s own brand products, often direct rip-offs of the original. Thus ‘Ovomaltine’ becomes ‘Eimalzin’ — not just a copy, but a play on the name. It’s only an ‘M’ Migros (they range from M through MM to MMM), and a little cramped. The Co-op is bigger and more spacious, and sells branded goods as well as their own stuff, and is about 50 yards from Migros. Landi — a farmer’s and market gardener’s co-operative — is a few minutes walk away.
Out shopping the other day, I counted the varieties of milk in Migros and the Co-op; both shops each had around a dozen different varieties of milk. Cows’ milk, that is. Not just ‘milk’, but semi-skimmed and skimmed — and lactose-free varieties of these — and milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D and… I was a little disappointed to see that the ‘Pregnant Woman’s Milk’ and the ‘Children’s Milk’ have both disappeared. But then, around 80% of new food products fail. Most milk is in tetra-paks or similar, some is in plastic bottles (which, of course, are recyclable.) The vogue for milk in bags — requiring you to buy a special jug to be able to pour it out — has passed.
All of these ‘varieties’ of milk are long life, homogenised and ‘standardised’. They also have fresh milk — but by then I was getting bored counting the varieties. Milk here certainly tastes better than in norn iron — Swiss farmers don’t make silage.
There is also a machine outside the bakery which sells milk fresh from the farm — bring your own container. This milk is about twice the price of the supermarkets. You are told to heat the milk to 70°C, though it doesn’t say for how long. I haven’t tried this, but I imagine that you would get ‘top of the milk’.
‘Top of the milk’ was always a favourite for the breakfast cereal, in the days when milk was delivered to the door, and came in bottles. We got ‘silver top’ which was the ordinary milk, though there was ‘gold top’ from Jersey cows which was creamier. The bottles were sealed with foil caps, hence silver or gold. Top of the milk is nothing more than cream, but now that milk is homogenised we don’t get this. And although cream seems thick and heavy, because it rises to the top, its density is less than that of milk.
You had to wash and return the pint milk bottles. During ‘The Troubles’ milk bottles were used for petrol bombs — and it’s said that the police and the dairies used to keep track of just how many bottles went missing, trying to predict attacks.
Years ago, we stayed on a farm, and I could drink milk straight from the cow. Quite literally, straight from the cow, and before it had been pasteurised — this was then done on the farm. I didn’t like this warm milk, and it did taste rather odd — certainly different from ‘real’ milk out of bottles.
Around this time I had a persistent low-grade temperature — a pyrexia of unknown origin or PUO — and was off school for a term or more. I was even in hospital and had tests — a chest x-ray and so on. And someone tried to encourage me to cough and collect the phlegm — but I didn’t have any. This seem to have settled spontaneously, I never had any treatment — or any explanation. 
Looking back, it’s clear that they suspected that I had TB, but were unable to confirm this. More accurately, they though I had pulmonary tuberculosis. I may well have had abdominal TB from drinking the cows’ milk — not such a severe problem, and one that often settles over time. 
At least the TB problem is now — or should be — secured. But we still have these dozen or so assorted varieties of cows’ milk. Do we really need this variety? The retailers generally respond to such questions with ‘the housewife demands it’ — and it’s always the ‘housewife’ and never the ‘houseman’ that they refer to. I suspect that the market for milk in terms of quantity is pretty saturated, and the only hope of more sales (and more profit) comes from these niche products. So it’s not really what the housewife wants (or even needs), more it’s what the retailers need to sell.
And by the way, Migros has seven varieties of hens’ eggs; the Coop only has four. And as for butter and cream…

PS: Was in the local Tesco supermarket. They seem to have sixteen varieties of milk -- I got slightly cross-eyed trying to count them all. And that doesn't include strawberry flavoured milk, nor buttermilk. Tesco has something like 11 varieties of eggs.

No comments:

Post a Comment