Taste It, Don't Waste It! Milk

Got milk? Maybe you have a little too much. As a nation, we pour a significant portion of our milk supply right down the drain. According to a study by the organization ReFED, milk and dairy make up 26 percent of the food wasted in the US. It happens to many of us. The gallon or carton is nearly full, yet the countdown on the crimp is getting close. Or maybe the milk is a day or two passed and, glug, glug, glug, we pitch it. But do we have to? Maybe with a better understanding of the meaning behind those expiration dates and a few tricks up our sleeve for putting extra milk to use, we can get more out of the moo. 

Expiration Dates

It wasn't very long ago that finding pure, wholesome milk was a genuine challenge, particularly for city dwellers. Getting a fresh glass of the stuff was easy when you lived down the road from or even on the farm - it arrived on your doorstep within minutes of milking, perhaps still warm from the cow. But getting that milk into the center of town, without refrigeration or any way to stabilize it was a huge hurdle in places like 1850s New York City, where the urban population was exploding and so was its residents' need for a safe dairy supply. 

An opportunistic industry sprung up to fill the need. "Swill dairies" in Manhattan and Brooklyn combined two thirst slacking beverages into one operation. Cows, sometimes hundreds or even thousands, were penned up next to the distillery and fed on the spent mash of the hooch making process. The resulting milk was so poor in quality that it was doctored with Plaster of Paris, eggs, flour and other colorants and thickeners to mask its many deficits. The milk, often misleadingly labeled as coming from the nearby countryside, was so putrid and unsanitary it was responsible for a citywide spike in infant deaths.   

It took decades, but eventually the rules and regulations necessary to ban adulterating practices from the dairy industry, and other food processors, were put in place. While the purity of milk is regulated at the federal level however, the freshness dating of milk is controlled by the state and each state handles its milk labeling a little bit differently. Most use one of these two "freshness indicators:"

Use by - this date indicates the last day that the milk is guaranteed to be drinkable.

Sell by - this is the day that the store needs to sell the milk by, but it gives you a window of time after that date to consume the product, around five days. 

While these dates are guides for freshness, they are not definitive. There is no clock in your carton that is going to turn the milk rancid the minute it strikes twelve on your use by date. 

Most eaters believe that drinking milk that has passed its date will make them ill but if you have spoiled milk on your hands, you won't need a stamp to tell you. Bad milk smells and tastes bad, sour, off. It screams, "don't drink me." To keep your milk freshest longest follow these tips:

  • Buy your milk last so it doesn't warm up in your cart while you do your other shopping.
  • Drive directly home with your milk - don't do other errands before you get it back in the fridge.
  • Don't store your milk on the door of the refrigerator where temperatures fluctuate most. Store it on a refrigerator shelf instead.
  • Keep your refrigerator cold: between 35-38 degrees.
  • Don't let your milk linger on the breakfast table or next to the coffee pot in the morning. Use, refrigerate, repeat. 

Tips for Using Up Milk

If you find yourself with a glut of milk, you can use these ideas to taste it, not waste it.

  • Make cheese - Think that fromage formation is beyond you? These recipes for making your own ricotta, mozzarella, or queso fresco will show you just how easy it is to whip up your own batch from scratch.
  • Ferment it - Inoculating milk with yogurt or kefir cultures is an ancient method of food preservation. The beneficial bacteria that make the creamy stuff taste so tantalizingly tangy and give you the rocking intestinal flora of good health also fight off contaminating pathogens. Go, good bugs, go!
  • Tenderize meat - Add up to a cup of milk to simmering meat sauces, such as Bolognese, and the lactic acid in the milk will tenderize the dish without making it creamy. Soaking, poaching and braising chicken, fish or pork in milk is a time-tested way to a more tender cut (see recipe below).
  • Soak your game - Soaking game such as venison and wild duck in milk not only tenderizes the meat but purges it of blood, which makes for a milder tasting dish.
  • Make soup -
    Recipes such as chowders often get their satisfying creaminess from a hefty dose of milk, thickened with flour or corn starch to keep it from separating.
  • Sauce it up - Milk-based sauces, such as the mother sauce béchamel and its derivative mornay, are recipes that you will use over and over again.
  • Make dessert - Puddings and custards get their luscious texture from guzzles of milk.
  • Boil it down - Many recipes for Dulce de Leche, the classic Argentinean caramel sauce, start with sweetened condensed milk. But if you want to go ultra-authentic, start with just milk and sugar cooked low and slow, slow, slow.
  • Sour it - Turn your fresh milk into tart buttermilk by adding one tablespoon of vinegar to every cup of milk and letting it sit for five to ten minutes. Use it in recipes such as cornbread, biscuits and the best fried chicken.
  • Freeze it - You can freeze liquid milk, just make sure there is a little room in the container for expansion. Freezing milk alters its taste and texture a bit but is still great for use in cooking and baking. 

Recipe

Milk Braised Pork

This is one of those recipes that stand on the shoulders of generations of home cooks. It's a simple method, passed down over generations, that yields consistently amazing results. It's perfect for a dinner party or family gathering when you want something bullet proof that you don't have to worry about. 

The sauce that the recipe yields will not look lovely by the end of the cooking time. Have not fear. A quick whir with an immersion blender and it will be ready for its close up. 

Ingredients

2 tablespoons neutral flavored oil, such as organic canola

3-4 pound pork shoulder roast

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 quart milk

3 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, minced

4-6 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard


Method

Preheat oven to 325.

In a heavy-bottomed pot, such as a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Generously salt roast and add to the pot, fat side down. Brown thoroughly before turning, about five to seven minutes per side. Reduce heat to low. Add milk, sage, garlic and season with pepper to taste and bring to gentle simmer.

Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook for two hours, turning half way through. Remove the lid and cook for another hour, turning half way through, until the meat is fork tender. 

Remove the roast to a platter. Add the mustard to the pot. Puree the sauce, blending in the roasted garlic, with a hand blender or in a traditional blender until smooth. Slice the roast thickly and serve it, passing the sauce separately.


Sherri Brooks Vinton  wants you to have a more delicious life. Her writing, talks and hands-on workshops teach fellow eaters how to find, cook and preserve local, seasonal, farm friendly food. To find out more, visit www.sherribrooksvinton.com.

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