The Canadian dairy industry and I got off on the wrong foot right from the start.
It just wasn’t meant to be.
My French childhood was one of unpasteurized cheese, flavourful yogurt, and indulgent creamy desserts. But when I came to Canada, I quickly realized I had the choice between building a good credit score or sustaining my dairy addiction. As a slightly overwhelmed twentysomething newcomer, I went with the latter. I’m ashamed to admit that I used to stubbornly hunt down tiny overpriced pieces of the most stinky cheese allowed for sale on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. I met many fellow addicts in obscure Polish or Deli delis over the years and yes, we shared tips. I think buying drugs would have been cheaper and easier.
Eventually, I gave up on imported cheese. It wasn’t worth it and I got tired of Feng’s puzzled look when discovering yet another piece of delicious stinky cheese in the fridge (retail value, $15).
I gave up on butter as well. It’s expensive and it doesn’t taste good to me here (and I’m not the only one complaining).
I was still buying yogurt until recently and even this common dairy product required some cultural adjustments at first.
In Canada, the cheaper and most common yogurt format is the giant 750 g “value” tube, which I found completely baffling at first. Yogurt has a short shelf life and these tubes are big. It takes me about ten days to finish one and I get tired of eating the same flavour day after day. Then I discovered that in Canada, all the flavours taste the same anyway. You think you’re buying strawberry, vanilla, berries, whatever but the yogurt always ends up vaguely fruity and slightly yeasty.
But the food industry is constantly innovating and around 2010, more options started to hit the shelves, including Greek yogurt, fancier chocolate pudding—I’m sorry, but Snack Pack pudding, a lunchbox staple, is not yogurt—and tons of new flavours.
For a few years, the Canadian yogurt aisle was great. Danette dessert even entered the Canadian market in 2014. My immigrant friends and I were super excited but it was a huge letdown because it didn’t taste like the French version at all—it was prepared in Canada and the recipe must have been different, c’est la vie. Danette disappeared a few years later and so did most fancy yogurt and new formats options.
You may think that supersize North American supermarkets offer a wider choice of products than in Europe. Well, think again. Yes, there are entire aisles of chips and cookies, for instance, but it’s just different flavours and formats of the exact same product usually owned by Mondelēz, General Mills, Unilever, Kraft Heinz or other multinationals you’d love to boycott if you could. Right now, the yogurt market is basically Danone versus Yoplait, both offering mostly Greek yogurt. Good luck finding anything else… and good luck finding good deals.
Groceries prices are soaring in Canada. I don’t have the time for homemade bread and home gardens, two popular inflation tips. But I can definitely make my own dairy desserts. I came back from France with yummy instant flan mix boxes and a plan in mind.
And for it, I needed milk.
As much as I like dairy products, none of us drink milk and I had totally forgotten that in Ontario, milk comes in bags.
Yes, large four-litre plastic bags that contain three smaller milk pouches.
Let me tell you, I can’t think of a more challenging container for milk.
Sure the big bag makes for great countertop garbage can liners but I curse them every time I need milk.
It took me a few weeks to get used to it. I made all the mistakes someone used to milk bottles or cartons can make, like cutting the bag open before putting it in the pitcher or putting the bag in the pitcher and snipping the wrong end of the bag, i.e. the end close to the handle.
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