I’ll never forget coming downstairs for breakfast my first time in Europe. It was about 3 years ago and we were on our honeymoon, visiting Kevin’s family.
Kevin’s family in Poland lives in a town called Bialka Tatransnka. It’s a little village in southern Poland, about 20 minutes from the Slovakian border and nestled in the Tatra mountains. People in this town are called “Highlanders,” who speak Polish with their own accent and have a cultural heritage distinct from the rest of Poland.
It’s an absolutely beautiful area. Houses and buildings have steep, pointed roofs and you can see sheep dotting the horizon everywhere you look. That’s part of the magic, I think. Mary’s family (and most of the town) gets their food from people around them, including their dairy, meat, and vegetables. They have their own small garden and know all of the people that create their food personally.
On this first morning, I found my way down wooden stairs and dropped into a seat at the table. I was jetlagged and disoriented. Mary was bustling about, cooking breakfast and speaking rapid-fire Polish to her 85-year-old mother.
I got up in search of milk for my coffee and found a small, white pan with what looked like milk and took it out to smell-check it to confirm. I didn’t get very far with my sneaky, don’t-bother-anyone mission before Mary noticed and told me I should use the fresh milk on the counter. She said it was “much nicer because it’s fresh. Don’t drink that stuff from yesterday in the fridge. This is much better, fresher. Take the fresh milk.”
I put the pan back in the fridge. But when I picked up the fresh pan, it was warm. The milk was warm, ya’ll.
My little US-butt had previously defined fresh milk as “the expiration date on the bottle is the longest date away available, confirmed by checking all the bottles on the shelf.”
This milk had probably never even known a plastic bottle.
Now, I wasn’t positive, but I was fairly certain at this point that this milk had come straight from a live cow’s udder not more than an hour ago, and I was about to put it in my coffee.
I carried the little pan carefully back to my seat and hissed at Kevin, “Kevin, it’s warm.”
He grinned back at me, “Yeah, I know! Isn’t it great?”
“Does she have a cow??”
I said the word, “cow” like it was a mythical creature only spoken about in books. When you get your milk from the store, it sort of is, really.
“No, but her neighbor does. That’s who they get their milk from.”
I stared back at him in awe. It felt like I was 3 again and learning where my food came from. This milk came from a cow. This morning. From its udder.
I poured it in my coffee and took a sip.
It could have been a placebo effect, but I remember it tasting just like the mountains looked.