Thursday, July 15, 2010


There's something that has confused and bothered me ever since I got here. I thought it odd that all the milk for sale in the grocery stores was sold unrefrigerated. You can store it that way for months, and once it's opened, it will keep in the fridge for weeks and weeks. I'm not sure how long it will stay "fresh" since I've yet to have one of those boxes go bad.

It doesn't go bad because it's ultra-pasteurized; the process is also called UHT, for ultra-high temperature.The milk we drink in the States is merely pasteurized and needs to be refrigerated. It will also go bad in a week or two even when keep cold. (Sometimes cream and half-and-half are ultra-pasteurized to make them last longer in the fridge.)

Personally, I'm suspicious of ultra-pasteurized milk. It tastes weird, and--Hello! Milk is supposed to go bad! It's milk. So when it doesn't need to be refrigerated, I'm thinking that it's not really milk anymore, if you know what I mean.

The thing that's really weird about this situation is that Belgium is full of dairy cows. You can't drive 10 kilometers in any direction without seeing some nice, contented cows standing around in a beautiful green pasture. There are cows right in Hasselt, within the city limits. I figured there must be a way to get real milk around here.

I picked up a map at the tourist information office that's labeled "Fairtradeplan" and shows the locations of various organic and fair trade businesses around town. It listed one place that sells "verse hoevemelk" not far from my boyfriend's work, and yesterday I went looking for it after dropping him off at the office.

Success! There, on a main street leading out of the city center, was a small dairy farm. I pulled into the driveway and parked between an open barn full of cows standing around in large pens with clean hay and a brick building full of what looked like modern milking equipment.

A man came out of the suburban house next door and, when I said I was looking for fresh milk, asked me if I'd brought a bottle. I hadn't, so he went back inside the house and got an empty plastic water bottle. Then we went into the brick building and he filled the bottle from a giant stainless-steel vat. It cost me 1 Euro for a liter and a half.

Now that I know how easy it is to get real milk, I'm never drinking UHT milk again! I have a friend here who says she usually goes to Holland to get fresh (normal, pasteurized) milk so I told her about the dairy farm. My Belgian boyfriend is suspicious, though. He thinks that if it can go bad, it can't be good.


  1. Hmm, being pregnant, it is good to know the milk is pasteurized here. It's probably because of some government regulation that our milk is pasteurised this way. We're used to it I guess, but I must agree the lower / unpasteurized milk has a lot more taste... Enjoy your fresh milk!

  2. Just tell Piet that the unpasteurized milk is the normal one. The only question is: " isn't cow milk supposed to be for small cows and not for human adults"

  3. This comment is likely two and a half years late, however fresh milk *can* be bought from most Delhaize and Carrefour supermarkets, hidden away in a tiny shelf next to some terrible "Karnemelk" (do *not* confuse this for mlk, it tastes like sadness).

    I made the mistake of drinking a glass of Karnemelk in my first year here in Belgium - which absolutely halted any desires to trial the other supermarket varieties for years - however now that I know Campina have an option - I've been drinking it almost weekly.

  4. I'm currently on holiday in Belgium and have just bought karnemelk. It does indeed taste like sadness. My breakfast was interesting to say the least.

    1. LOL! Did you know it was buttermilk? Or did you make the same mistake as the gentleman above?

  5. Hi! By accident, do you know how to search for places to buy "real" milk? I'm looking in Gent area...

    1. No, I'm sorry, I have no idea! But Gent has a lot of vegetarian and healthy food eateries. I bet you could ask around. Good luck!

    2. OKay (and presumably Colruyt) supermarkets sell fresh homogenized milk in their fridge section.

  6. Hi,

    I read some confusion here over milk in the comments.

    All milk sold in the EU is pasteurized. The same for the US. Barring some rare exceptions. Pasteurized milk and cheeses are available but in quite limited quantities.

    'Fresh' milk is pasteurized. It's same fresh milk one buys in the US or UK or the Netherlands or in Greece from the cooler sections in the supermarkets.

    UHT (Ultra-High-Temperature) milk the author referred to is also pasterised but at a very high temperature.

    Fresh pasterised milk is readily available in Delhaize, but often sold-out in Carrefour. I would expect to see this on shelves in AH because that's a Dutch company and the Dutch drink lots of fresh milk.

    You won't need to visit a specalist shop for fresh milk.

    The confusion comes from misinformation. Belgians confuse fresh milk with unpasterised milk and therefore think this unhealthy. Even after I've explained the difference, they nod at me, and then 10 seconds later repeat their misinformation parrot fashion rejecting the fact. Who needs facts anyway....

    UHT contains far less vitamins than fresh pasterised milk which in turn contains less than unpasterised fresh milk. Calcium seems unchanged.

    "UHT milk does not need to be refrigerated until the package is opened, which makes it easier to ship and store. But in this process there is a loss of vitamin B1 and vitamin C and there is also a slight change in the taste of the milk."
    "Pasteurization is the reason for milk's extended shelf life. High-temperature, short-time (HTST) pasteurized milk typically has a refrigerated shelf life of two to three weeks, whereas ultra-pasteurized milk can last much longer, sometimes two to three months. When ultra-heat treatment (UHT) is combined with sterile handling and container technology (such as aseptic packaging), it can even be stored unrefrigerated for up to 9 months."

  7. Hi, where was this place where you found fresh milk? and farms?
    I'm in Brussels and can't stand UHT milk

    1. LOL! I live in Limburg province and I found fresh (unpasteurized) milk at a dairy farm just outside of town. I think you'll have to get out of Brussels to find some cows :)