In the 1960s every school child was allowed a third of a pint of free milk at morning break time. At my girls high school my school prefect job as milk monitor was more of a punishment than a badge of honour. Every day I stuck paper straws through the silver foil caps of tiny glass milk bottles, and handed them out to girls that made this their drink of choice. Empty bottles were collected and washed out to be stacked on top of the ever increasing crates of unopened bottles to be returned to the milkman. In cold winter months if the crates were left outside, blue tits pecked holes in the foil to get at the cream. My other much hated role was to strip off the broken caps before girls spotted this unhygienic damage. In warm weather the cream clogged the tiny bottles as the heat warmed the milk and it was no surprise that milk was lost its popularity amongst teenagers.
In 1971 Margaret Thatcher ends free school milk and answers to the chant ‘Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher’. Some are relieved to see the end of break time milk, which led to crates of wasted bottles. 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 drink and cook with milk, and free posters to decorate my classroom showing How the cow makes milk, and Milk nutrition. TV adverts from the The Milk Marketing Board persuade us to Drinka Pinta Milka day, and local milkmen deliver pints of milk in glass bottles to most doorsteps in the country. The government wants us to drink more milk and it’s evidently my job to support this mission.
For today’s milk tasting I’ve brought bottles with a range of coloured foil tops and chilled them cold in the gas refrigerator. Yes! A noisy, cumbersome box on free loan from the Gas Board to make sure I treat each of the power suppliers the same. They have to identify the milk tops by colour – for the exam! A popular and easy question. Gold for rich and creamy Channel Island milk, silver for whole milk, red for homogenised and red and silver for the new semi-skimmed.
Then there’s sterilised milk – to me the most unfamiliar. It comes in tall, thin stemmed glass bottles with red writing on the glass, and the fluted metal cap that I flip off with a beer bottle opener. Sterilised milk keeps for ages and is popular especially in the homes in the area without a fridge.
‘Me granddad always has this milk with his tea. Won’t drink anything else.’ says Len.
Each milk is poured into a jug so they can’t identify the milk by its foil 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.
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 line.
Semi skimmed seems thin and weedy, and sterilised – tasting just boiled and sweet.
They pour, sip and taste, vote and tally the marks and we come out with the most popular choice.
Surprise, surprise. It’s the silver top. The one they drink at home. The one they had for free at infants’ school. But sterilised milk comes a close second, the choice for people who like what they are used to.
Then the bit they like best.
My Kenwood food processor whizzes milks, ice, red jam, and chocolate milkshake powder to make each of them a chocolate raspberry milk shake.
And no one cares what milk it is made from as long as they get a coloured straw.
Next week we’re going to Oxford Street to visit the National Dairy Council and they deserve a treat.
The Milk Marketing Board was set up in 1933 to ensure that all milk produced on farms was collected and sold for the best price possible and bought all milk produced in the UK. It was abolished in 1994 and the free market took over.