How to Choose the Best Milk for Your Bar

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24 June 2021
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How to Choose the Best Milk for Your Bar

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It is estimated that 80% of the world’s Espresso is used as the base ingredient for milk drinks.

This is an impressive number.

Even we Italians, despite being “espresso centric” , consume a lot of macchiato, cappuccino and similar.
For this reason, in addition to coffee, we must also be very familiar with the other main ingredient of the drinks we serve at the counter: Milk.

Milk classification: fat content and heat treatment

We can classify milk into 2 categories:

  • by fat content
  • according to the treatment they have undergone

Then there are the “lactose-free” and “alternative drinks to milk”, but we will talk about these later.

How to read the milk label correctly
There are 2 values on the milk label:

  • one indicating the “glass of milk” (approx. 200ml)
  • the other (compulsory!) which sets out the nutritional values per 100ml, which can be translated as a percentage of those components in the total milk.

Nutritional values of full-fat milk: fat

In the case of full-fat milk, the fat content must not be less than 3.5%. It is normally found between 3.6% and 3.8%.
Fat is related to:

  • creaminess
  • opulence of flavour
  • density
  • duration of the whipped milk foam (often sought after in cappuccinos)

Fat in Semi-skimmed and Skimmed Milk

To define a milk as “semi-skimmed” the fat content must be between 1.5% and 1.8%, while for “skimmed” the fat content must not exceed 0.5%.
Often on the market you can find milks marked “0.1% fat”, suggesting an almost complete absence of fat.

Thermal Treatment of Milk

The classification of milk by heat treatment defines milk as:

Fresh Milk

Milk processed within 48 hours of milking and which has undergone pasteurisation at +72°, without boiling, for 15-30 seconds.
In this case the expiry date is 6 days at the most.
The question that arises is: “Is it possible to have a combination of fresh milk and the three previous types of milk? So fresh whole, fresh semi-skimmed, fresh skimmed?”
Yes, technically it is possible. The definition of fresh does not prohibit skimming.

High Quality Fresh Whole Milk

It is only right to mention the High Quality Certification, which can only be awarded to milk containing a higher minimum number of serum proteins than normal fresh milk, as well as compliance with a specific “HQ Protocol” made up of strict quality standards at the various stages, from the farms to collection, transport and processing.
Let me anticipate the answer: no, although fresh skimmed or semi-skimmed milk exists, to date the same High Quality version doesn’t exist.

UHT milk (Ultra High Temperature)

Another heat treatment undergone by milk and widely available on the market is indicated by the abbreviation UHT (Ultra High Temperature).
This involves passing the milk through tubes or plates at no less than 135°C, normally 140°-145°C, for a few seconds.
In other cases, a jet of water vapour is used, with a temperature of around 148°, directly on the milk, which is then sterilised in a less invasive way.
In both cases, the shelf life is between 3 and 6 months.

Milk Microfiltration

Another noteworthy milk treatment, developed about 20 years ago, is Microfiltration.

This is a mechanical treatment in which the milk fat is separated from the whey by a membrane. The whey is then re-filtered into even finer meshes to retain microbes.
At the end, the fat is combined with the whey and a decision is made at this stage as to whether the milk is full-fat, semi-skimmed or fully skimmed. The result is pasteurised.
This process guarantees a lower bacterial load than fresh milk and a longer shelf life (at least 15 days) while maintaining a clean organoleptic profile similar to fresh milk.

How to Choose the Best Milk for Your Bar

So how do you choose your milk? Which is the best?
My suggestion is:

  • take 3 different types of milk at a time (the more you compare in one session, the greater the risk of habituation)
  • taste them at room temperature (if they are cold from the fridge, simply place them in heated cappuccino cups, swirl the contents around and wait a few seconds for the milk to warm up)

How to Taste Milk Correctly

Take a first sip to prepare your mouth and a second fuller sip to better understand the sensations it gives you.

Immediately move on to the next one and try to perceive with the two sips the different characteristics, the different stimuli that come to you compared to the first, and so on with the third.

In a first phase you can eliminate one and concentrate on the direct comparison between the two remaining ones.
Once you have drawn up a ranking, you should also try them in your cappuccino, since it is not obvious that the one you prefer “pure” is also the best mixed with espresso.

(You might also be interested in some of my advice on how to taste coffee professionally or on the correct milk emulsion).

Doing these tests is essential because changing the milk during the process is an operation that can destabilise the customer.
So be very careful when defining your product!

Also try out some with milk-loving friends and relatives. There are always some!

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