One of the oldest, weakest jokes about England is that the food is terrible. And I’ll admit that I’ve complained in the past that some English foods are downright terrifying. But you know what? Some foods are actually better over here.
The eggs and dairy of England are top notch. They beat equivalent products in the U.S. hands down — no matter where you shop and no matter how much you pay. It doesn’t matter if the egg-laying chickens are free range or if the milk is hormone-free or if everything is organic — because we store everything wrong. We heat-treat our milk and we refrigerate our eggs and they’re never the same after that*.
But it’s not just that. I think standards are just higher over here**. And one look at the cheese section of any market will confirm this: pasteurized processed cheesefood*** is a fever dream that goes unrealized, while Stilton, Double Gloucester and Red Leicester reign.
Some of this takes a little getting used to. You’ve got to try all these new cheeses to find out which one is best, after all. And you’ve got to get used to new labelling conventions. For example, in America milk is labelled as skim, 1%, 2% or whole. This always confused me growing up — why does the milk go from 2% all the way to whole? Why can’t I get, say, 47% milk? Are we that uninterested in the other 97 steps in between 2% and 100%?
At the market down the road from me, you can buy skimmed milk, semi-skimmed, whole milk — and then something called Jersey Gold. Jersey is an island in the English Channel known for being full of cows and tax dodgers, so it stands to reason that their milk must be pretty good. And the label says it’s 5% fat! At last! That fabled step between 2% milk and whole is a reality. It was all I could do not to buy them out of Jersey Gold on the spot.
I went home and had a bowl of corn flakes that would make you weep. It’s like your tongue is wearing magical satin pajamas that make everything taste awesome. I couldn’t imagine drinking anything else ever again.
Then I ruined everything by looking it up. If you learn nothing else from reading about my life and travels, learn this: Your happiness will never by improved by learning more about the thing that is making you happy. Ignorance might not be bliss, but research is the father of all buzz-kills.
Because, you see, I did not actually understand how milk works. I thought the percentages involved in 2% milk and 1% milk referred to the ratio of whole milk to skim — so that whole milk would be 100% and skim would be 0%. It turns out that those figures refer to how much of the beverage is fat.
There is no 100% milk — even clarified butter is only 99% fat. What we call whole milk is more like 3.5% fat. So at 5%, Jersey Gold isn’t a step between semi-skimmed milk and whole; it’s a step between whole milk and half-and-half. It is delicious and wholesome and perfect – and as a responsible, health-conscious adult, it is something I can never justify buying again.
I’ve heard people say that once you do heroin, being sober is automatically depressing. Not because there’s anything wrong, but because your personal bar for what counts as wonderful is so much higher now, that everyday existence is intolerable by comparison. Jersey gold is the heroin of milk. For the rest of my life, I’m going to put skim on my corn flakes and sigh, remembering that time my tongue wore satin pajamas and everything around me burned just a little bit brighter.
* I know these steps are supposed to be taken to prevent food-born illness. But I don’t see anyone over here complaining.
** They still have honest-to-goodness milk men driving around and delivering dairy in the early hours of the morning.
*** As a rule of thumb, if a substance feels the need to reassure you that it is in fact food by putting that word in its name, it is undoubtedly something you are better off not eating.