When Dish was little, milk still arrived at the back door in glass bottles straight from the dairy. These days most of us get our milk at the supermarket; it comes in plastic jugs or waxed-paperboard boxes, but it's still fresh. It must be refrigerated.
Now Parmalat, the Italian food company (they also sell pasta and tomatoes under their Pomi label), is making a move on the U.S. market with milk that keeps on the shelf for up to five months without refrigeration. The milk is treated through a process called UHT — essentially a superhot flash pasteurization (284 degrees Fahrenheit for three seconds) that sterilizes the milk without damaging its flavor. The milk is then sealed into quart-size containers that look like big juice boxes. (Once the boxes are opened, the milk must be kept refrigerated, and used within 10 days.)
UHT milk is popular in Europe, but it isn't yet widely available in this country, despite the TV ads. Dish checked at Tower Market, Trader Joe's, the Real Food Co., and the Diamond Heights Safeway before finding Parmalat at Andronico's in the Sunset. It's not too pricey, either. A quart costs 99 cents (a quart of fresh Clover Stornetta 1 percent at Tower is $1.02), and there are four varieties: whole, skim, 1 percent, and 2 percent. According to Salvatore Cataldi, public relations representative of Parmalat U.S.A., the company will also be offering several sizes of half-and-half, as well as shakes and milk packs for school lunches.
Cataldi says that convenience is a big selling point for long-life milk. “Our studies show that people average four trips to the market every three months specifically because they run out of milk,” he says. “If you buy long-life milk in bulk, you'll never run out.”
The odd thing is that Parmalat tastes better than any American brand Dish has tried (and that's quite a few of them). Dish thought that Parmalat's superior taste might be the result of using milk from Italian cows, but Cataldi says the Parmalat milk sold in this country is “made here, from American cows.” The only local milk whose flavor, in Dish's opinion, approaches Parmalat's is from the Straus Family Creamery, and their product is not only more expensive (and perishable) but available in just whole or skim versions. Even the low-fat Parmalat milk has a deep, intense flavor that makes cappuccino taste the way it does in Europe: better.
Can it be that the secret to good European coffee is not the coffee after all, but the milk they use? Parmalat has made a believer out of Dish.
By Paul Reidinger