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‘My gripe about French milk was replaced by awe at dairy statistics’

An ‘expat’ niggle about milk bottles lead Justin Postlehwaite to discover the sheer scale of France’s dairy industry

2.1% of French milk is organic and 26% of dairy farm managers in France are women Pic: BearFotos / Shutterstock

I have had the urge to air a (very minor) gripe about French milk for some time. 

Yet upon researching the subject, said gripe was momentarily replaced by awe at the sheer scope of France's dairy industry.

Buckle in for some impressive statistics

According to the government's Agriculture and Territories website, milk is produced in 90% of French departments. 

Three regions – Brittany, Normandy and Pays de la Loire – produce 52% of the country's annual cow's milk: a whopping 23 billion litres. 

2.1% is organic and also, 26% of dairy farm managers are women. 

We must not forget the 660 million litres of goat's milk collected in France in 2020 (mostly in Nouvelle Aquitaine), or the 294 million litres of ewe's milk the same year.

Read more: North France: Is cheese really dunked in coffee at breakfast?

A little help from a certain Frenchman, Louis Pasteur

The man who started all this – by figuring out that by heating milk slowly you can stop bacterial contamination and extend its shelf life – was, of course, Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). 

What might he have made of an industry now worth €8.7 billion – 13% of the country's total agricultural output? 

Not all milk is pasteurised, of course, and there are any number of amazing raw milk cheeses like Brie, Camembert, Roquefort…

Read more: Why some French cheese may begin to taste a bit different

Back to the gripe

The standard one litre plastic bottle in which French milk is sold has a glaring technical fault – for any expat 'builder's tea' drinker, at least. 

The pouring lip is simply not fit for the purpose of splashing a nuage into a morning cuppa – it drips and dribbles all over the bottle (quel horreur!)

If the French were a nation of bona fide tea drinkers, this problem wouldn't exist. Do you agree? 

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