Saturday, April 28, 2007

Another walled city...

We were in need of groceries and decided to go to Pernes Les Fontaines, another small town not far from Velleron. This was our third or fourth foray into a grocery store and we decided to unmask the "milk mystery" once and for all.
Since we had left England, we had had great difficulty finding fresh milk in any grocery store and, when we did come across
some, it was usually just a small display of dubious organic stuff, completely lacking in residual antibiotics and other zesty additives. Thus, with our trusty phrasebook in hand, we chose an Auchon Hypermarket as our research target.
The result? It turns out that a clever piece of social engineering has been laid on the French populace and, like it or not, appears to have met with total acceptance. There is no fresh milk anymore. ALL milk, except the occasional stash of organic, is UHT (Ultra High Temperature) processed and appears in mountainous stacks at various place in the store, but never in, or near a cooler. It is sold in 1 liter plastic or cardboard containers at the equivalent of about $2.25 per gallon and usually has a "Use by" date three or four months into the future. We had no problems with the flavor (too bad, I suppose, if we did) and, being able to store a couple of gallons on board in a closet, turned out to be quite a boon. The organic milk was typically 2-1/2 times the cost of the UHT product.
To produce UHT milk, fresh milk is heated to 275
degrees F for 1 to 2 seconds. This kills the spores that normally spoil the milk in a day or so at room temperature. Acceptance has been very limited in the US although many food products - McDonalds McFlurries for example - are made using UHT milk.
Interestingly, because the life of fresh milk is so short, milk distribution is a national security
consideration and, in the US, numerous small and inefficient dairies are maintained across the country, aided by subsidies and similar, to ensure widespread availability of the product in the event of catastrophic transportation disruptions. Europe has removed this consideration from their security situation since UHT milk can be stockpiled almost anywhere for up to nine months with no need for refrigeration. Quite a coup.
Anyway, we were in Pernes. The Les Fontaines flourish was added only in 1936 after it was realized that since around 1850, various people had built as many a forty fountains around town. Some of the wall entrance portal date back to the 13th century while the clock tower, other parts of the wall and various residences trace their origins from various dates from the 14th to the 18th century.

The Nesque River runs through Pernes and parks, recreation areas and walks have been built alongside

A well-oiled wedding party was making its way haphazardly through town on their way to a further celebration in a local hostelry

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