Opinion: The world’s first ‘milk sommelier’

Location: Netherlands
Other: Opinion

Yes. You heard it right. A milk sommelier.

Blame Ronan Sayburn MS. It’s the entertaining ‘share’ from 67 Pall Mall’s uber somm on Facebook that put me onto this in the first place.

His post this week about an article on the world’s first ‘milk sommelier’ understandably, generated a fair bit of comment ranging from the apocalyptic (‘we’re going to hell in a handcart’) to the sarcastic (‘my three year old is a milk expert too’) type thing.

It was thoroughly entertaining and I agreed with many of the comments.

To fill you in, Bas de Groot is a Dutch milk expert  and he says lots of things that sound plausible. Milk, he says, has terroir, like grapes; the farmer is conducting a symphony with the different elements; milk is a range of colours, not just white.

On one hand, much of these assertions sound like perfect candidates for Private Eye’s ‘Pseud’s Corner’ where bullshit goes to get ridiculed; on the other, it’s not that different to what we say about wine.

And as a kid I remember the ‘special treat’ of having gold top milk from the Channel Islands that was twice as rich and creamy as our usual. So maybe the idea of ‘terroir’ in milk is not so daft as it sounds.

It all got me thinking.

We roll our eyes at the idea of a milk sommelier because:

a) we don’t take milk that seriously

b) we doubt that it tastes that different anyway – milk is milk, right? And…

c) we’re not that interested in it. Milk (if we drink it at all) is just something we uncritically pour on our cereal, tea etc

Now, for a large number of the British population, those same three observations more or less also hold true for wine.

Give your average punter a glass of wine and ask them what it smells like, and their response will be ‘wine’.

Start talking to them about terroir or the vision of the winemaker and their eyes will glaze over.

Moreover, this resistance to expertise can be the same for any product, whether it’s wine, whisky, chocolate or cigars.

The issue, I’d suggest, is not so much whether Mr de Groot’s knowledge is nonsense (who are we to criticise terroir and flavour differences after all?); it’s whether his ideas can be presented in a way that is relevant and interesting.

I’ve been bored rigid by experts in subjects that interest me, and I’ve been surprisingly engaged by talks on issues (most recently caviar!) where I had no prior interest at all just because the information coming at me was engaging and clear.

But there may be (ahem) cultures that would value information like this; non-alcoholic parts of the world that would pay more for certain types of milk if they are presented to them with passion and knowledge.

So maybe there is room in this world for a milk sommelier. Even more than one.

After all, ten years ago we saw the birth of the water sommelier. This is hardly any more ridiculous.

About Author

Chris Losh

After five years working on My Weekly magazine (during which time he learned how to write horoscopes and make things out of mince) in 1995 Chris Losh entered the world of drinks writing and, despite all advice from his doctor – and the wishes of most South African winemakers – has stayed there ever since. He began on Wine and Spirit International, editing it for several years before moving on to edit Wine Magazine. Both publications have since gone the way of the Dodo, but he claims to have nothing to do with their demise, and his alibi appears solid, since he was freelance writing for anyone who would pay him at the time. In 2007, he helped to set up both Imbibe magazine and the Sommelier Wine Awards, and has spent much of the last three years eating, drinking, and listening to French sommeliers talk about minerality. In 2009 he was shortlisted for the Louis Roederer Feature Writer of the Year, but didn’t win. Perhaps he should have stuck to horoscopes. And mince.

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