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Milk Day: Celebrating our first food, and a delicious ingredient, plus the chance to sample quindim and dulce de leche

Taste / -

giornata latte

From new-borns to grown-ups, milk is the universal drink.

The best-known and most popular is undoubtedly cow’s milk, with dairy cattle providing some 83 percent of the world’s total production. Water-buffalo are responsible for a full 13 percent of global output, with goats and sheep next up, accounting for two percent and one percent, respectively. The remaining one percent is made up of camel’s milk, which takes 0.3 percent of the whole, and the rest comes from mares and yaks.
 
The world’s milk producers
 
World milk production has risen by 50 percent in the last thirty years, from 482 million tonnes in1982 to 754 million tonnes in 2012. India is the world’s largest milk producer, contributing 16 percent of total world output, followed by the United States of America, China, Pakistan, and Brazil. Italy produces just under nine million tonnes of milk per annum, one part of which is made into cheese, butter, and yogurt, and other dairy products.
 
Depending on how the milk is processed, it has different characteristics, diverse nutritional values, and longer shelf-life.
 
From dulce de leche to quindim: milk-based recipes galore
 
Milk is a basic ingredient of a wide array of recipes. One of the best-known of these is probably dulce de leche, which is a milk and sugar confection, typical of Latin American countries such as Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela.
 
The sweetened milk is heated slowly, and its distinctive caramel flavor derives from the Maillard reaction, which also makes the color change to a hazelnut-brown. The same treat is very popular in the Philippines, where it is often used as a cake-filling, or is poured over cake and ice-cream.
 
There are many legends connected to the invention of dulce de leche. One of the best-known tells that this dessert was created by accident in the 19th century in Argentina, when the maid of a famous politician of the time forgot a pan of sugared milk on the stove.
 
Another milk-based specialty sweet that is much loved in Brazil is quindim, which has Portuguese roots, and is a baked custard. Made with condensed milk, grated coconut, and egg yolks, it has a rich, sweet taste, and can be served hot or cold. In Portugal, almonds are used in place of coconut, and the dish is called Brisas do Lis.
 
Other milk based sweet dishes are crème caramel, Portuguese custards tarts (Pastel de nata), and any number of rice-base puddings that each have their own distinctive names.
 
Milk can also be used in savory dishes, however, since it mitigates salty tastes.  Examples here include Pork Roast Braised with Milk, or Portuguese salt cod with potatoes.
 
Milk is, of course, also drunk on its own, or can be served as part of a milk shake, with fresh fruit, or chocolate.
 
Fermented milk
 
Some 2,500 years before the birth of Christ, the Persians and the Egyptians, among others, were expert at making fermented milk products, such as yogurt, so they could conserve milk longer. These days, these products are much-prized in that the micro-organisms that they contain are considered to offer health benefits.
 
From camel to yak: lesser-known sources of milk
 
While cows provide the majority of milk for human consumption, water buffalo, sheep and camels also do their part. Less common sources include yaks, horses, reindeer, and donkeys.
 
Sheep’s milk is the only option in the semi-arid areas of the Mediterranean, while goats carry out the same function in areas of Africa where the soil is not very fertile. In the steppes of Central Asia, mares provide milk, and camels do the same in desert lands, water-buffalo serve the identical purpose in the tropical humid zones, while yaks are perfectly well-suited as milk providers at high altitudes, such as the Tibetan Plateau.
 
Camels are the main source of milk in Africa and Asia, with nomadic tribes being able to survive for an entire month at a time, drinking nothing but camel’s milk. In Central Asia, this milk is fermented and then used to add flavor to savory dishes, or for making a popular drink called shubat, or chal.
 
In the steppes of Central Asia, and especially in Mongolia, mare’s milk is also prized. Collecting it is very time-consuming: the actual milking process takes time, and needs to be repeated between five and six times a day. In addition, the mare will not produce milk unless she has a foal. Donkey’s milk is also of also rare, and in some African communities is used only for medicinal purposes.
 
Yak milk, on the other hand, provides essential sustenance to the inhabitants of the Tibetan Plateau. This is because yaks can survive not only at high altitudes, but also at temperatures of forty degrees below zero.
 
Check out these links for more on the subject of milk:
 
- Milk Facts, an infographic published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
- Afghanistan: Stabilizing Rural Communities published by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
 
 

Maurizia Cacciatori: Why the Expo will be like the Olympics

Lifestyle / -

Maurizia Cacciatori

Expo Milano 2015 Ambassador Maurizia Cacciatori was a volleyball champion, and captained the Italian women’s team at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, the first time an Italian volleyball team had ever qualified for the Olympics. Now a mother of two children, she works as a sports commentator.

How did your life change when you left the game?
My life changed, indeed it changed enormously, inasmuch as I feel a much greater sense of achievement. I now have a family and two children, and this is immensely important, despite the fact that I enjoyed considerable success in the sporting field. I do still work, though, as a TV sports commentator and I also help promote my sport, which brings me into contact with young people.
 
On that subject, what advice would you give to someone who wants to become a volleyball player?
Just one word: passion. Even if you don’t aim to be an Olympian or a star player, you still have to be passionate about what you do. Passion is what guides us, and helps us achieve whatever we desire, at every level. Without passion and the determination to succeed, everything becomes that much more difficult.
 
How different is your diet today, especially as you have since become a mother?
The fact of being a mother has a considerable impact because you have to be so much more vigilant about what you cook for your family. Then, being an Ambassador for Expo Milano 2015 puts even greater responsibility on my shoulders, because ‘Feeding the Planet’, which is one of the themes of the expo involves spreading the word. It means finding a balance, and a way to ensure well-being for everyone.
 
What was the pinnacle of your sporting success?
Definitely the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. It was the first time the Italian women’s volleyball team had qualified, and it was doubly important to me since I was the captain. The food at the Olympic Village was very well-prepared, and there was lots of choice. Each of the countries had its own culinary tradition, and so we might say that what one eats at the Olympics is international, much as it will be at Expo Milano 2015.
 
What was your favorite food during the Olympics?
I love Asian cuisine, and I have very fond memories of some excellent rice served with vegetables, what we in Italy refer to as ‘risotto alla cantonese’, or ‘risotto cantonese-style’. Our coach, Julio Velasco, often reminded us of the need to be respectful of other people’s traditions. This also extended to respect for their culinary traditions. So, I remember this lovely Asian rice dish that we were served, on the evening before a match.
 
What do you like to cook?
I prepare wonderful lasagne. I like it, and so do my children. This dish means a lot to us, and I enjoy preparing it from start to finish. I also enjoy the fact that sharing a favorite dish is not just providing food, but is also a loving gesture towards the people for whom you have prepared it. Almost as if it were a gift.
 
What do you think you can contribute, in your role as Ambassador, to an event that has been defined as the “Food Olympics”?
Food is the principle underlying everything and everyone. A healthy and varied diet is key to being active and successful. Knowing about what people eat is also very important. By bringing us into contact with other nations’ food traditions, Expo Milano 2015 affords us a unique opportunity to enrich our own lives.
 

Five questions for Save the Children. Improving children's health in Malawi is possible

Innovation / -

Nuovi corsi di cucina organizzati per arricchire la dieta alimentare

The involvement of communities, and women in particular, is one of the strengths of the project. It is thanks to this involvement that the number of children who are underweight or suffering from rickets has been reduced. Save the Children talks about how they intervened in the Chiradzulu district in Malawi.

At Expo Milano 2015, the photo-story displayed in Pavilon Zero will be another opportunity to learn about Save the Children projects. What message would you like to convey with your approach to the issue of food security?
The project promotes an integrated approach, for the learning and acquisition of healthy food behaviours for children younger than five years old, through the examples and actions of their young mothers. Appealing to the crucial mother-child relationship, the project works on various levels, with the goal of reinforcing and improving the entire “supply chain”: from agricultural production, to storage and commercialisation of products and seeds, to the administration of a healthy and balanced diet to the children. In the light of pleasing results, we feel capable of giving a positive message, that is that "food insecurity” can be beaten – even with relatively simple and sustainable actions and interventions.

What difficulties have you encountered while working on your project? 
A technical difficulty arose when a hen incubator, which was supplying the families who were benefiting from the project, broke. The solution was finding a private supplier, with the resulting increase in costs and reduction in the number of beneficiaries. But, the problem turned into an opportunity, as it allowed us to set up a "cascade” system of chicken distribution, effective in the long-term: each "beneficiary” gives five chicks to another farmer, thus guaranteeing a constant and uniform distribution as well as increasing the number of beneficiaries.

Since the submission date, how has your project developed to date?
The project is finished now, but the activity is still continuing, independently carried on by the local communities via volunteers (trained during the project), which guarantees not only the continuation but also spread of good practices to other beneficiaries and communities – functioning as “distributors” of aforementioned good practices.
 

What are the next steps?
Without a doubt, the project is a best practice to promote and to be talked about, as it can inspire similar actions or offer useful tips for interventions in the field.
An excellent opportunity for its spread will come at the Expo Milano 2015, in the context of important events such as "Women for Expo" – on July. In this context, they will all be able to speak about the results of the project and the decisive role of young women in triggering changes in food habits and practices, against food insecurity and malnutrition.

Do you intend to replicate the project in other countries or in other contexts?
The approach, which was adopted and affected in this project, will be used in various other projects in Malawi. Particularly, the two most recent programs of this kind, financed by save the children and started in summer 2014, are ‘Improving Nutrition and Economic Opportunity for Women and Young Children' in the Neno district and the 'Women Arise Project’ in the Chiradzulu district.
 
 

Over a million people are already #FoodConscious. What about you?

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