Chronicles of a writer abroad

I love thee, UHT


I mentioned yesterday that I find Swiss milk really good. What makes it so? Maybe the fact that Swiss cows are happy cows, allowed to pasture freely in line with old-world methods? Yes, perhaps…but it also might be due to the fact that I am drinking milk which has undergone something called UHT processing.

I was first exposed to UHT milk in Italy in 2008. I had an epiphany along the lines of, “whoa, milk here isn’t refrigerated in the store. And it tastes amazingly good!” I assumed at the time that I was drinking whole milk, whose higher fat content would be responsible for its deliciousness.

But during my first shopping trip in Zürich (whereupon a lesson was learned: due to extremely oppressive crowds, do not shop at the Bahnhof grocery store – one of the only ones open in Zürich on Sunday – unless your life depends on it) I deliberately sought out lower-fat milk, and found 2.5% – close enough to the 2% we’re used to in Canada. Again, unrefrigerated. And again, after trying it, “whoa – this tastes too good.”

What these two milks have in common is UHT, or ultra-high temperature processing (also known as ultra-pasteurization). UHT milk is essentially sterilized so that it becomes shelf-stable for 6-9 months. This processing method is used widely throughout Europe (62.8% of the milk consumed in Switzerland is UHT; in France, the figure is 95.5%). There are some exceptions – UHT is eschewed by residents of the UK, for example, so along with North Americans, they instead consume milk that has undergone HTST (high temperature/short time) pasteurization and must always stay refrigerated.

According to Wikipedia (hey, it’s my blog – I’ll be a lazy researcher if I want to) UHT can alter taste through something called “Maillard browning,” which leads to a burnt taste, which apparently some consumers find unpleasant. Well, either the UHT milk here doesn’t taste this way, or I enjoy this taste.

In addition to tasting great (from my perspective, anyway, and I think I’m not alone in this — France, you feel me?) UHT might be an environmentally-friendly choice. Since the milk does not have to be kept cold in transport or in the store, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. This was in fact the rationale behind a 2008 proposal by the UK government to make most milk produced there UHT – a proposal that was ultimately squashed by consumers and the dairy industry, who proclaimed loudly that cold milk is good milk. Of course, it’s true that UHT milk does need to be refrigerated and consumed quickly after opening, just like any milk. It’s also the case (at least from what I’ve seen) that UHT is sold in Europe only in 1-liter containers, perhaps leading to a higher recycling burden. But, given small European appetites, the frequent shopping trips and the size of fridges here (mine fits under the stove), the smaller size does make sense. And then, as always, throw into the balance an anti-UHT faction claiming that it’s bad for you.

So what do you think, my North American family members? Would you be

Delicious Schweizer milch

willing to go UHT? I guess I have to experiment more with the 28% of non-UHT milk in Switzerland before I decide what I’ll be drinking long-term.

Oh, and bonus points to anyone who wants to guess what the litre of “Bio” (i.e., organic) UHT milk pictured here costs, in Swiss Francs (roughly equivalent to Canadian dollars).


11 thoughts on “I love thee, UHT

  1. I am willing to go UHT!!! Sounds good to me, I think cold milk is overrated sometimes (that’s why I microwave raisin bran)! I know a lot of yogurt products around the world are not refridgerated, and I am ok with that.

    My guess for the price is 8 Swiss Francs.

    I hope you continue to find delicious foods in the grocery store! 🙂

  2. I’ll tuck under Patrick at 7 francs. For sure I’d give the UHT a whirl, I think I might have had it when we went camping once. We can buy some milch in a tetra pak here that is good for 6 months. Thank you for the pic of the happy Swiss ‘die kuh’.

  3. I was totally going to guess 8CHF before I saw Patrick’s comment. I think I’ll go with 10CHF. Yes, I am a big fan of UHT and wish we had it here.

  4. Guess we made a big mistake by not refridgerating our UHT milk when we had it aboard Legasea. As a result, we have never had it again, mostly because of the burned taste. Good for you, though, if you enjoy it. Perhaps the Swiss don’t burn it quite as badly as Canadians do! Price? Haven’t a clue but I’ll guess 2.5 fr.

  5. Can you find UHT in cardboard cartons as well as plastic jugs? In Victoria they often sell milk in cartons, sometimes in plastic jugs, never in bags, and I find the container greatly affects the taste.

  6. In fact, the cost of this litre was CHF 1.70! Not bad, huh? We’ve been finding that groceries are not actually more expensive than what we’re used to, especially given that prices in Vancouver were quite high. A loaf of bread is still just a couple dollars in the supermarket; cereal 4 or 5; fruits and vegetables comparable to Vancouver prices as well. The only thing we’ve noticed to be more expensive is fresh meat.

  7. Retroactively (I’ll claim time zone differences!) I’ll guess 1.69/l, but I guess I didn’t account for inflation.

    I’ve had UHT lots sailing, but right now, with Jordan (especially) and the other 3 of us milk-consumers, we go through 15 or more litres per week. I like the bigger containers so there is less packaging per unit of product. Our next step is to buy a cow. Near-zero packaging.

  8. Pingback: Stepping forward and back | Milchtoast

  9. Ugh, I can’t stand the taste of UHT milk! The colour and texture are all wrong! It just seems to taste… dead.

  10. A litre of milk in Switzerland is under 2.50 francs. You can buy cases of it for around 8-10francs depending on how big the case is. My cousins have a huge cellar so my Tante buys (or did when we were kids) cases of 12 quite frequently, and would pop two in the fridge for easy access.

  11. I LOVE the taste of UHT milk. I was first exposed to it visiting family in Mexico as a child and wondered why the Mexican milk tasted so much better. That’s until I learned of UHT pasteurization in my 30s. I’m in.

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