A few years ago, I came across an interview with an illustrious French chef who had made his home in Britain. I’ve forgotten which chef, but I do remember him going to some lengths to impress on us rosbifs just how lucky we are with our dairy cows. When he moved here, he was astonished by the quality of milk available to the average Briton and remade a number of his dishes to celebrate our heavenly liquid. And of course, anyone who has gazed at the UHT nonsense you find in French supermarkets will believe him, having experienced this epiphany in reverse.
His enthusiasm now seems poignant as it becomes clear how disgracefully Britain treats its dairy farmers (the French wouldn’t stand for it) and what complacent consumers we are. Our wholesalers and supermarkets have squeezed the national udder dry by conditioning us to believe milk is worth only 50p per pint. This in a land where people are cool with spending £3.50 on a carton of coconut water.
I’ve been searching for recipes to help us appreciate this native marvel afresh. And if it takes the addition of alcohol, then so be it, for there’s any number of milk cocktails to be rediscovered, from the guilty pleasure of the White Russian to custardy eggnogs. In Jerry Thomas’sBartenders Guide of 1862 for example, there’s a splendid instruction for barmen about how to serve ‘White Plush’: ‘Hand a bottle of bourbon or rye whiskey to the customer and let him help himself. Fill up the glass with fresh milk.’ The part I like best is the bottle being handed over.
The fanciest way to combine milk and liquor is in a proper clarified Milk Punch, a New Orleans staple to this day. You must separate the milk and filter the whey through the curds, which would have made a transparent punch for bottling. The first known recipe comes from the Isle of Man in the late 17th century and, for something that looks like baby vomit while you’re making it, the results are silken smooth. Just use the finest British milk you can get hold of — and remember to tip your cow.
Clarified Milk Punch
Almost all of the ingredients are variable as long as you keep the sweet/sour/strong/dilute elements in balance. Try green or jasmine tea instead of camomile or replace the sugar with any combination of honey, maple syrup, maraschino, Grand Marnier, cherry brandy, etc. A baby’s muslin cloth will do for the filtering. Serves six.
Whole spices (e.g., cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, coriander seeds)
250ml dark rum
50 ml brandy
250ml camomile tea
25ml golden sugar syrup
50ml lemon juice
Dash of absinthe
Remove the skins from the lemons with a peeler, taking care to avoid the bitter white pith. Add the lemon peels, rum and brandy to a bowl along with a selection of spices (e.g., a cinnamon stick, a star anise and a handful of coriander seeds), cover and leave to infuse, ideally overnight.
For the punch, gently warm the spiced spirits in a pan and pour in the hot tea. Add the lemon juice and gradually add the sugar syrup, tasting for balance. Now boil the milk in a separate pan and introduce it to the lemon-spirit-sugar-tea mixture. It will curdle! But all you need to do is pass it through a muslin cloth a few times and the curds will filter out the whey — along with most of the colour. You may need to repeat this a few times for perfect clarity. Try a coffee filter to remove any final particles.
The finished punch will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks if you aren’t tempted to down it before. To serve, simply pour over large lumps of ice and garnish with a cherry. A light misting of absinthe sets it off nicely.
A creamy indulgence, as drunk by ‘The Dude’ in the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski. It is much improved if you use fresh espresso instead of the traditional Kahlua and seek out Black Cow vodka, which is actually made from British milk. Lob in a shot of any liqueur you fancy (crème de cacao? Amaretto? Frangelico?) for variation. Serves one.
50ml vodka (Black Cow if possible)
1 shot espresso
1 spoon brown sugar
50ml whole milk
Combine the espresso and brown sugar in the shaker and stir to dissolve. Add the vodka and plenty of ice, shake hard and double-strain into a tumbler with a few ice cubes in it. Now empty the shaker, add the milk and shake very hard for a while, so that the milk froths up (you can do this within the milk carton itself if you like). Add the milk to the glass, give a little stir and dust cocoa on top.
The non-alcoholic version of this drink, made with warm milk, cardamom and honey, is a childhood bedtime favourite. If you whoomph up the proof and serveit up, it makes a splendid nightcap. Serves one.
Five or six green cardamom pods
25ml vodka (Black Cow if possible)
25ml whole milk
In the bottom of the shaker, bash the cardamom pods around a bit with a muddler or somesuch then add the rest of the ingredients, shake with plenty of ice and double-strain into a cold cocktail glass.
Richard Godwin is the author of The Spirits (Square Peg).