Milk Expectations and Reality
The first time I was duped by Turkish milk, I blamed it on ignorance and my American upbringing.
When I poured this milk onto my cereal, I was surprised to see little white gel blobs plopping onto my Special K, followed by a mostly clear liquid. “What is this stuff?” I asked myself. I had just bought the milk that morning, and even checked the date, so I knew it was fresh. Just to be sure, I checked the date again (they use the European/military style of date here, so 10/9/12 means 10 September, not 9 October). Then I sniffed the bowl. Besides the boxed cereal smell, there was nothing sour or rotten. I tried stirring the cereal to some uniform consistency, but really couldn’t destroy or reshape the blobs. I didn’t want to waste the bowl of cereal (they rarely have my faves at the commissary, and the Turkish version tastes like cardboard) so I dropped a spoonful of the weird looking gel/flake/water mixture into my mouth. And then I spit it all out and threw away the milk carton – I didn’t know what was wrong, but I couldn’t keep eating it.
A veterinarian friend later told me that the milk was probably not homogenized, which is the process that keeps breaks down the milk fats so they remain suspended in the liquid for a uniform liquid consistency. It’s also what allows for us to have all of our peculiar levels of fat in milk in America. “Haven’t you seen old people shaking a gallon of milk before they pour it?” she asked me. Before milk in America was always homogenized, you had to shake the milk bottle before pouring to get the palatable look. Who knew? I learned the Turkish word for homogenized (pretty easy, homojenize) and now look for it on the bottles, although it rarely shows up. Annoyed at myself for throwing away a carton of good milk, I now routinely shake my milk too, no matter what the label states.
I did learn one brand that meets my American expectations – Günlük süt (which means daily milk) that is low-fat. I think it’s the most popular brand, since its place on the shelf is frequently empty. When it’s not available, I stare in bewilderment at the dairy aisle. I’ve learned not to buy ayran, a salty yogurt/water drink that comes in bottles packaged deceptively like plain milk, or kefir, a fermented milk product similar to buttermilk.
On my last purchase, I wasn’t paying enough attention to the labels. I bought a bottle of milk produced at the Ataturk Forest Farm, which is a farm and zoo right outside of Ankara. I thought it was local and probably organic. Once again I poured it on my cereal, and although it looked okay, there was an odd taste. I did the date and smell checks again. Although it definitely had a fresh scent, there was something a little off. I tried another bite of the cereal, and once again couldn’t stomach the odd milk. I thought it would be okay in coffee, since there clearly wasn’t anything wrong with the milk. Even the coffee couldn’t overpower the slightly sour tinge though.
When I examined the bottle again, I saw the drawing of a goat, and read “keci,” which means goat, on the list of ingredients,. I’m a compulsive reader, and will skip right over a cartoon to read the captions first – it’s no surprise I missed the obvious goat on the milk bottle. So the weirdness could be attributed to goat milk, which I guess will do in a pinch, but tastes odd for an American raised on the cow stuff.
Having had to learn the lesson twice, I now know to read the labels of everything I buy in Turkey.
A harder pill to swallow is how easy life in America is, at least compared to most of the rest of the world. Even 7-11 sells a variety of milks. When a lactose-intolerant friend visited, we tried to find a dairy alternative, like soy or almond milk, with no success. When I go abroad, although I usually drop expectations of American life, little things like this always remind me how lucky we are.
Hopefully the next food surprise will be pleasant.