Culture Shock: Boxed Milk

From SU Madrid student Caitlin Dewey’s blog.

I spent my first few weeks in Spain terrified of contracting some serious infection or gastrointestinal illness. Contrary to everything I’d learned about food safety, my host mother does not refrigerate milk – and while it magically never appears to go bad, I wasn’t convinced that it wouldn’t kill me.

Five weeks in, however, and I’m still here – in fact, even as I write this post, I’m drinking coffee with counter-stored milk in it. And thinking of the number of times I’ve gotten in trouble for leaving milk on the counter, or – even worse! – the number of times I’ve grimaced and drank the only slightly-spoiled milk from my dorm room fridge, I’m beginning to see the wisdom of the European system.
Spanish milk is totally different from American milk. For starters, it comes in a box and thus kind of tastes like cardboard. It also uses a different type of pasteurization – called UHT – that kills more bacteria and makes it safe for longer periods of time without refrigeration. While I wouldn’t be terribly keen to try this one, sources say that unopened boxed milk will stay fresh for up to nine months.

I had to wonder why this thing hasn’t caught on in the States. After all, Americans have pretty much cornered the over-sanitized food market (genetically modified, pre-cut, hermetically sealed vegetables, anyone?), and un-spoil-able milk is hard to beat.

Apparently some European milk manufacturers thought the same when they tried to market boxed milk in the U.S. about 15 years ago. At the time, CNN predicted that they’d face a tough crowd — Americans just don’t want to give up the milk flavor they’re used to, even if it this cardboard variety never spoils.

Judging by the fact that I’d never seen boxed milk before this trip, I’m gonna go ahead and guess that they were right.


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