In the 1960s every school child was allowed a third of a pint of free milk at morning break time. In secondary school, my job of the prefect milk monitor was more of a punishment than a badge of honour. Every day I stuck tiny straws into tiny glass bottles of milk, handed them out to rows of girls, then collected and washed out the empty bottles for the milkman. In warm weather the cream stuck to the glass as the milk soured in the heat. On frosty winter mornings, when the blue tits pecked holes in the silver foil to get at the cream, I stripped off the foil so no one knew the hygiene risk.
In the seventies Margaret Thatcher makes her mark as Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher and stops free school milk. Tastes in drink have changed and some are relieved to see the end of break time milk, which often leads to crates of unopened, unwanted, sour bottles of milk returned to the milkman. Others complain that the nation’s children will suffer nutritional deficiencies, but the move saves the government twenty million pounds in times of financial cutbacks.
At school I have stacks of National Dairy Council booklets encouraging us to cook with milk, and free posters to decorate my classroom showing how the cow makes milk, and explaining how nutritious milk is. TV adverts persuade us to Drinka Pinta Milka day, milk is in chill cabinets in Milk Bars, and local milkmen
deliver pints of milk in glass bottles to most doorsteps in the country. The Milk Marketing Board wants us to drink more milk and it’s pretty clear that my job is to support this mission.
We’re going to have a comparative milk tasting which is a good way for me to show them the different types of milk. They have to learn what the different colour milk tops mean – gold for rich Channel Island milk, silver for whole milk, red for homogenised and red and silver for semi skimmed, and sterilised with its metal cap. This is another piece of essential knowledge for the exam.
Which one will they prefer? It is never a surprise as they always like the milk that they have at home.
The strangest milk for me is sterilised, with its cold, boiled milk taste. It comes in glass bottles with long thin stems and red writing on the glass, sealed with a fluted metal cap that I open with a beer bottle opener. Sterilised milk tastes horrid but I must not make personal judgements in the classroom as sterilised milk is popular in the east end and keeps for ages, even after opening.
‘Me granddad always has this milk with his tea. Won’t drink anything else’ says Len.
I buy a range of milks and chill them in the gas refrigerator. Each milk is poured into a jug so my students can’t identify the type of milk by the coloured top and vote for their family choice.
We start with the gold top milks – Jersey and Guernsey.
Creamy, golden, sumptuous milks. As a child I longed for the top two inches of thick yellow cream to pour on my cornflakes. Today such milks would come with a health warning, a red traffic light label and a message HIGH IN SATURATED FAT. Back then they were delicious.
Silver top is our bland, everyday milk, with a thin cream line, a paler version of the gold top.
Homogenised, with its red foil top, is the modern choice, mixed and heated to make every pour the same, and no delicious cream on the top.
They sip and taste, vote and tally the marks and we come out with the most popular choice.
Surprise, surprise. It’s silver top, the one they drink at home. But sometimes sterilised milk comes first, a milk drunk by families from the area and strong views on the traditional foods that they use.
Then the bit they like best.
Out comes the Kenwood food processor and we whizz raspberry milkshakes from red jam, and chocolate milkshake from cocoa powder and sugar.
And no one cares what milk it is made from as long as they get a coloured straw.