Milk. It does a body good. But it’s kind of gross too. It’s not that bad, I suppose. I still consume it. I have some every day in my coffee and always in my cereal, whenever I happen to have cereal. It’s in all kinds of recipes too. But having a refreshing glass of milk is just not my thing. Sometimes on tv or in a movie, they show someone going to the fridge after coming inside and gulping milk right from the carton. Yuck. Or worse, when you see a race car driver win a race and get bathed in victory milk in the celebration. When did that become a thing? My stomach churns in those moments. All I can smell is sour milk. I think that goes back to elementary school in those moments when I would pull kitchen duty as a lucky student and would get to help distribute the milk. We’d go down to the cafeteria and the lunch crew would load up our wagon with little milk cartons, one for every student, then we would wheel it back to class. I can still smell that cafeteria and the overwhelming aromas of institutional food and sour milk still waft inside my head.
I think it got worse in middle school. There was a time in middle school where the janitor was sick and the good students were allowed to help out on some of the janitorial duties while he was recovering (Is this a real memory? It sounds oddly like child labor). In any case, my friends and I would clean up the cafeteria after lunch which involved going in the kitchen and throwing away the trash. The trash room was where the smell of sour milk really permeated mixed subtly with the smell of spoiling garbage. It made me gag back then as it still does today. I think that made me wary of drinking milk.
My mom always served us a glass of milk with dinner. It was almost required to have a glass at dinner. But as soon as I moved out, that glass of milk went away. Now even thinking of drinking a glass of milk is unappealing. It makes me think of the smell of that garbage room. No thanks.
Today being Milk Day wasn’t that big a deal. I can still drink milk, I just prefer not to. So having a glass today in honor of the holiday was doable. In fact my plan was to have a nice glass of milk with some of the cookies I had made yesterday (which would have been delightful). I can always enjoy milk with cookies and it’s probably the one time I will reach for a glass of milk. Then I thought about how else I could celebrate this day and to do something unusual. My answer came in the form of a Rhode Island specialty: Coffee Milk.
Coffee Milk is the official state drink of Rhode Island as it was voted in 1993 (narrowly beating out Del’s Lemonade in a very heated battle). It’s basically a syrup that is made by straining water and sugar through coffee grounds. You add that syrup to milk, stir it up and you have your coffee milk (just like making chocolate milk). It’s kind of unique to Rhode Island. It’s believed to have been created by Italian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, but for some reason, its popularity has never blossomed outside the border of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (that’s our official name here in Rhody). I have never had a coffee milk.
I’ll pause here to give my Rhode Island friends a moment to gasp at that announcement.
It’s true, for as long as I have been visiting and living in Rhode Island, I’ve never tried a coffee milk. I haven’t been opposed, it just doesn’t come up that often. So I figured a good way to celebrate Milk Day would to do it in true Rhode Island style and enjoy my first coffee milk. I picked up a bottle of coffee milk syrup at Clements. I went with the Autocrat brand which seems to be the brand when it comes to coffee milk. They started making it it in the 1930’s and still do today. They are based out of Lincoln, RI and continue to be the leader in coffee milk sales. In fact in recent years, the folks at Narragansett Brewery teamed with them to create a Coffee Milk Stout. That’s Rhode Island. When I got home, I poured two glasses of milk. I had to ask Lola how to make it because I really didn’t know. I would have figured it out, but I just wanted to make sure there were no special tricks that only Rhode Islanders know. There was not. You just squirt in the syrup and stir. That’s what I did.
It has a pale brownish color to it, much lighter than a chocolate milk. It smells good too, like coffee ice cream. In fact it tastes like coffee ice cream, like you are drinking coffee ice cream. It’s pretty good. I could see it being really tasty in a milkshake (or cabinet if you are in Rhody). Lola approved my mixing too, so at least I knew I had the skills to be a coffee milker. I was really surprised at how good it was. I finished the glass in a few sips. Now I was a Rhode Islander.
There are a lot of things that you see in your daily life and you hear about but for whatever reason you never try them. That’s when people ask you with a true sense of disbelief, “You’ve never had it?” I learned today that you should accept those type of questions as challenges to yourself to try something new. You never know what you will find and what you end up liking. The next on my Rhode Island official food tasting adventure will be a hot wiener which I will try the next time I see it available (if I can order it without giggling). My brother always seems amazed that I have never had one. That’s a challenge and if I’m going to be a Rhode Islander, I better get going on all the great food traditions that are cooking in the greatest little state in the Union. Maybe I’ll have a nice coffee milk to wash it down too.
Next Up: National Curried Chicken Day