The pinta with a longer life

It looks like fresh milk, it tastes like fresh milk. And some people think it might replace traditional UHT. A brand of drinkable extended- life milk could soon be available in your corner shop By Annie Bell
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
All of us have, at one time or another, reached into the fridge for the milk, only to find it has gone lumpy overnight. Particularly in summer, it can seem as if a fresh pint lasts only about a day. So wouldn't we all welcome a pint that lasted up to a month, and still tasted good? This may soon be possible, with the development of "extended-life milk".

Of course, we already have UHT (which stands for Ultra Heat Treated, or possibly Ultra Horrible Taste) milk, which can last for six months, but this is something most of us only turn to in desperation when we've run out of the fresh stuff.

Producers of UHT, which occupies 6 per cent of milk sales, would have us believe that the bad old days of it tasting like burnt evaporated milk are over, and that 96 per cent of people cannot tell the difference between fresh pasteurised and UHT. There is some truth in this, but it is not so much to do with improved technology as changing habits: it is the cream in the milk that produces the nasty taste when heated, and today 70 per cent of milk sales are of skimmed or semi-skimmed.

So the excitement over a new long-lasting milk alleged to taste just like fresh milk is understandable. The process for this milk was developed some years ago by the Milk Marketing Board, which was deregulated in 1994. Unable to find a co-operative to market it they patented the process and put the marketing on hold.

The Milk Marque was then set up to replace the MMB, and they established a product development centre for the industry which acts as a consultancy, identifying opportunities. They set up pilot plant to test the new process.

The next step was a link up with Farm Produce Marketing, a company who had recognised there was an opportunity to market this product on airlines. The requirement was for a milk that was packaged in 125ml portions to fit into the in-flight Kelloggs cornflakes bowls on British Midland and other UK airlines. The milk was titled "Fresh Milk from Cheshire".

The demand was for a full-cream milk that had all the taste of ordinary fresh milk but a longer shelf life, because by the time the latter had trickled through the catering red tape it had outlived its 10-day life.

The secret of extended-life milk lies in the way it is heated. Whereas fresh milk is pasteurised by heating it to 72C for 15 seconds, and UHT is heated to 140C for two seconds, the new extended-life milk is heated to 120C for one second, a process designed to retain all the flavour of fresh with the benefit of being longlife.

But how long is long? Fresh milk has a shelf-life of 10 days, UHT of six months, and the new milk an extended life of 28 days. Once open, they all deteriorate at the same rate, a few days. So it is questionable whether this milk should be seen as a longlife product at all.

But changing consumer habits may still ensure its success within the retail market. Milkmen are a dying breed; roundsmen are franchised and the decline in doorstep deliveries is running at 17 per cent per annum, and in three to four years, the system may disappear altogether. At which point, extended-life milk could find its place in the market.

Chris Bird, manager of the Milk Marque Product Development Centre, says it is "still unknown" whether the product could succeed within the retail market. But he sees a niche for the consumer who lives alone and wants a four-pack that will last a month.

There is also the issue of vitamins. As every supermarket shopper knows, there is mild and there is vitamin-enriched milk. While pasteurisation is a heat treatment designed to kill any harmful bacteria, UHT is designed to remove any ageing devices and in the process of doing so kills off some of the vitamins. However fresh the new extended-life milk may taste, it will have a lower vitamin content than ordinary fresh pasteurised milk.

This milk may or may not go on to the market in about one year. But next time you are flying within the UK, make sure you order the cornflakes.

Taste test

We asked people at Heathrow Airport to taste a standard UHT milk followed by the new "extended life" brand...

Eduarda Cristovam, 25, research scientist

"The new milk tastes better and has more flavour. I wouldn't say that this was treated as it tastes quite fresh. I would definitely buy it. It has a completely different aftertaste and smells nicer. "

Nicola Agnew, 23, perfusionist

"It's much nicer than UHT and not as creamy. It's also much lighter and doesn't coat your mouth as much. It tastes much fresher."

Noel Farrell, 33, computer technician

"It's OK. I suppose it's better than UHT. I always have fresh milk at home and it's not exactly the same but it's not bad."

Michael Griffin, 57, computer worker

"There's really no comparison. This tastes like fresh milk and it is much more tasty than UHT. I wouldn't drink UHT and I'd be satisfied this was fresh milk."

Jago Most, 33, software specialist

"The new milk is not like stuff in Holland. It's not of the quality I'm used to at home. I usually drink farmer's milk and I suppose this is about midway between UHT and that."

Kelly O'Donoghue, 19, student

"I suppose this is much nicer than theUHT, which tastes very creamy and sickly. This tastes much better. I could drink this, even though I don't generally drink milk."

Ena Withers, 43, sales manager

"This is much better than the UHT. Is it condensed milk? This is creamier and doesn't have an aftertaste. I hate UHT because of the aftertaste. I seldom drink milk, but this is nice. "

Interviews by Scott Hughes