As bread, so has milk been an unreplaceable item of food for Estonians for thousands of years. Although many drink options have emerged alongside dairy products and the consumption of milk has somewhat reduced over the past decades, an average Estonian still consumes quite a lot of dairy products in comparison with other nations – in 2009, Estonia with Ireland lead the dairy product consumption chart of Europe.
Until the 20th century, raw milk was mainly consumed in homes – many people now recollect the abundant taste of raw milk from the time they visited their grandparents’ farms. The fat percentage of milk sold in Estonian shops differs, but Estonians prefer milk with 2.5% of fat.
Almost all dairy products – drinking milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter, cottage cheese, curd, kefir, sour milk, etc. – are manufactured from raw milk. Although milk powder is also produced in Estonia, it is seldom used to prepare dairy products.
Shops sell pasteurised milk which has been heated for 15 seconds at more than 70 degrees Celsius. This ensures that the milk is free from any bacteria that may reproduce and damage health when milk is not stored properly. At the same time, pasteurisation maintains the good qualities of milk, such as its taste, calcium content and vitamins, and keeps the milk fresh for longer. While raw milk turns into sour milk when left unused, then pasteurised milk does not contain the bacteria that cause fermentation and the milk spoils.
Similarly to the bread department, Estonian supermarkets also have uniquely abundant dairy shelves in comparison with other countries. In addition to different flavours, we also have many dairy products enriched with useful bacteria (such as lactic bacteria LGG or ME-3 bacteria developed by University of Tartu researchers, etc.) and different vitamins, but there are also dairy products for lactose-intolerant people