No. 24: Dairy

Dutch people like milk products, a lot. Even if you know very little about Dutch people or have just arrived in the Netherlands, you will soon observe the Dutch’s predilection for dairy.

Need proof of their penchant? Just look at the height of ‘em! The Dutch tower amongst the world’s tallest of folks. Correction: the tallest people in the world. The average adult  in the Netherlands is 6 feet 1 inch (1.85 m). But wait, there’s more. Dutch people’s height appears to be contagious: immigrants living in the Netherlands  are taller on average than their racial groups in their countries of origin. Wonder why? The love of all-things-dairy of course!

A Dutch person’s best friend

In North America milk is primarily child’s play. Step into any Dutch corporate lunchroom and you will be confronted by rows of Dutch men, in suits, happily slurping cartons of milk like it was going out of style! (I thought it already had?)

It is important to note that not all milk in the lowlands is created equal: karne melk, the Dutch answer to buttermilk, is by far the most popular of milky varieties. SDPL TIP: Trying to blend in with the locals? Pair a simple cheese sandwich with a carton of karne melk and you are now consuming the nation’s most popular luncheon meal! An added bonus, you might just sprout an extra few inches!

After all, as the popular Dutch television ad’s proclaim: melk moet (milk is a must)!

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    • Can we have a entry on Dutch knee-jerk defensiveness when anyone mentions that their culture is somewhat “unique”? Can we also mention how their response inevitably involves a pop-shot at Americans? I myself am not American, but it amazes me how people such as our good friend svenvantveer above automatically assume that anyone whom might question their “normaal” habits is American.

      • ah no, we just want to say that we are not the only weird ones.
        and the Americans make themselves such an easy target!

      • I agree, but I have to admit I usually ignore it. I am American and find it amusing much of the time for most define American culture by television and movies. It is a borish for me now and I just to take the bait.

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  5. What about VLA??? the finest and most Dutch dairy EVER. Available in al kinds of flavours, like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, caramel….(…”hopjes, vanille en chocola…..” remember y’all, DOMO VLA!) . A very important Dutch thing!!!! Very.

    • Haha I was thinking the same thing. I had a small group of friends over a few weeks ago. All of them originally from Israël but some moved to Germany & the UK. Anyway, some of them were in the NL for the first time so they wanted to try the regional delicacies/candy. Apart from the classics mentioned in other articles on this site (like drop) we tried poffertjes, herring and I made them stamppot as well (even though it was midsummer).
      The dubbelvla we had as dessert somehow made a huge impression on them, we actualy had to watch a small documentary on how they made the stuff afterwards :)

      As a 110% Dutchman I have to agree to loving dairy as well, couple of liters of milk per week, 2 cartons of yoghurt and the occasional vla. So far fresh milk (pasturised) has been the only thing I’ve missed when living abroad/traveling. I even had my friends bring me a “bruine boterham met kaas & melk” (whole wheat sandwich with cheese & milk) when they picked me up at Schiphol after a 5 month trip through South East Asia. Even though Thailand has the best cuisine I’ve ever tried it became quite difficult to go without simple things as wholeweat bread & fresh milk.

      • Haha! Same thing here! I also asked for a ‘bruine boterham met kaas’ when I came back from an amazing India trip, including the best food I ever had. Nothing beats a whole wheat sandwich with cheese & milk :)

    • Maybe it’s because we live in such a small country and we all think that we should rule the world (We did once). It’s true that we get defensive very quick.

  6. Gotta say though that karnemelk (buttermilk) is certainly NOT the most popular, you really have your facts wrong there. Halfvolle melk (half skimmed milk) is the most popular. Take a look in any supermarket and check the volumes of halvolle melk against karnemelk. I’d say roughly 50 to 1.
    (It better be, the stuff tastes awfull….sour milk, come on! My dad drinks it though.)

    • I was gonna say, Karnemelk? the most popular? where has this fella been in Holland on a vegetarian conference? Its horrible stuff. No we consume huge amounts of “volle” “half volle” melk (semmi skimmed) and whole milk and yoghurt and vla much more than Karnemelk. At first i liked this site but reading more and more i’m beginning to seriously dislike it with his silly and sarcastic comments facebook needs an unlike button!

      • Im a vegetarian, but karnemelk makes me feel like puking? I cant even smell it, let alone drink it. But the same thing surprised me, where did he get the idea its the most popular?

      • I agree, definitely not karnemelk… my mom used to make me drink a glass per day… i’m still so happy and proud that one day i told her; enough!!!! can’t drink, smell or see that awfulness..

  7. Ha, nice post! I actually like this habit of ours, since it is healthier than other lunch habits. Although I can’t remember having seen the slogan ‘melk moet’ ever in my life… I remember ‘melk is goed voor elk’ though (milk is right for everyone)
    Thijs is indeed right! Karnemelk is absolutely not the most popular.

  8. Amusing website. Being Dutch and married to an American, a lot of these posts have been topics we’ve discussed at one time or another about the oddities of our culture.

  9. Well, milk is just as common in Germany as it is in the Netherlands, so no big deal for me :). And vla really kicks asses big time =). Oh, and think of Lays, Frikandel, Hagelslag (that is actually something I used to import to Germany all the time because it’s so awesome), not to mention Kibbeling! Holland is quite a paridise, food-wise. If only there weren’t as many dutch people… just kidding ;)

  10. As Thijs already pointed out, karnemelk is defenitely not the most popular dairy in the Netherlands; maybe halfvolle melk or vla is (we drink melk at breakfast too, you know. And we eat vla for desert almost every night). I’m quite sure most Dutchies don’t even like karnemelk.

  11. Some people have pointed out that karnemelk isn’t the most popular dairy product in the Netherlands and they’re absolutely correct. However, I would also like to say that ‘karnemelk’ is written as one word.

    I love your site though. Most of the ‘oddities’ I wouldn’t even have considered strange, because I grew up with them. Never thought about things like birthday calendars for instance. Keep up the good (and funny) work!

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  13. I have never heard of the phrase “Melk moet”
    But I do know the phrase “Melk, de witte motor” (Milk, the white motor”)

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  15. And yoghurt, we eat lots of that too. If mixed with vla and red lemonade-syrup it’s called “vlaflip” and that’s even better than just vla.

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  17. I know I know it’s a bit strange for a Dutchie, but I really don’t like dairy … When I was little I always fight about it with my mom…
    but he, I’m a bit strange, the rest of the fam. drinks it a lott!!

  18. I have been living in the UK for more than 15 years and I do have to admit that one of the things I miss most here is the Dutch dairy, including our delicious cheese, such as pitjeskaas. English cheddar just isn’t the same and often very crumbly. The dairy aisles in the supermarkets here just do not compare to what is available back home, with ever new appearing flavours of vla (as I discover when visiting for holidays) and so many varieties of yogurts. My children find it a veritable feast as well and eating vla at the end of the evening meal is one of the highlights of their day when on holiday (and choosing untried flavours in the supermarket as well!). At the end of the holiday I always raid the local Albert Heijn to buy several kilos of vacuum verpakte pitjeskaas (all five of us absolutley love it) and I wish I could bring back a car boot full of karnemelk as well, but that’s a bit more tricky…

    Another thing I really miss here are the delicious varieties of freshly baked really dark bread (with all kinds of different seeds), which simply doesn’t exist here :-(. Stroopwafels used to be on my ‘miss’ list as well until I found out recently that one of the supermarkets here started doing them in packs of 8, made in Wales, but they still taste like the real thing and now I’m never without ! :-)

    It’s interesting to note how each country has their own funny eating & drinking habits, like you mention that milk is considered a children’s drink in North America but no so with the Dutch. When I came to the UK I was astonished that squash (ranja) is also considered an adult drink here (we’ve even got bottles of them in my office kitchen to quench the thirst of my colleages) whereas in Holland that is really considered for children only (well at least when I grew up)!.

    • Not to mention the difference in taste the milk in the uk doesnt taste the same as the milk in holland. however the Jersey cow milk (goldtop) is very nice I used to drink a lot of milk, but the taste of the UK milk has made me drink it hardly

      • Growing up in Northern Japan where they drink a lot of milk, I had the same experience on coming to the UK- the milk tasted so bland that I stopped drinking it, unless I managed to find some Jersey goldtop milk. Alas, by then it was already too late and I had become lactose-intolerant.

      • And the tast of the cooked milk, which was bought as the former losse melk (unbotteled milk). You had to pasteurize it imediately, for it was in the time that the fridge was not yet in everybodies’ home. But most mothers cooked it, so it got that taste which is only acceptible in havermoutpap (porridge) AND got this ghastly thick, wrinkled vel (skin?). It took us years of complaining, refusing, retching, crying to get released of the daily duty.

        The milk was cooked in a milk cooker: a higher pot which was broader at the top and had a lid with a ring of holes and a rised hole in the middle. For cooking milk swells foaming much and these where measures to prevend boiling over.

        http://collectie.museumrotterdam.nl/beeld/63027-7.A-B_1.jpg
        my mother had this one, which worked better in the battle against overboiled milk on the stove: http://www.vandittumendattum.nl/img/scale_groot/E%20391-E%20408%20(14).JPG

    • Once I was in the UK on holiday and ordered in a pub a pint of milk. I believe the lady who served me had never had that order before. It was registered under ‘miscellaneous drinks’.

  19. the melk moet commercials are from the mid seventies and showed a couple of dutch celbs drinking melk.

  20. I’m Dutch and to my opinion semi-skimmed milk (halfvolle melk), I hope I say it right like that, is to most favorite kind of milk here. In the suppermarket you can buy 2 litters can with it. While karne melk (buttermilk) only have 1 litter packs.

  21. Once. when I was working for an international consulting firm, we had our colleagues from Brusels over in Amsterdam for a work lunch. Being the junior, I had to do all the work AND had to arrange the lunch. Being Dutch, I naturally arranged for a simple cheese sandwich and karnemelk. One of the senior partners unpolitely declined eating anything and said ‘that’s so Dutch’.

    • So would I have replied. As I am sure would virtually any non-Dutch adult. You people really have to get over that while milk and sandwiches may be the nectar of the gods to you, aside from being conveniently goedkoop, it really isn’t normal food for grownups anywhere else. I’ve seen this happen too more than once while working in Amsterdam and each time it leaves me equally baffled. Just eat the stuff all you want but be at least a little bit business-savvy when visited by foreign collaborators.

      • Indigenous Dutch are 100% lactose tolerant. They can consume milk their entire lives. In the rest of Europe too, lactose tolerancy is the norm (although not as much as in the Netherlands). On other continents though, only 1 in 3 grownups is lactose tolerant. Chinese don`t like to consume dairy products because, they say, it makes you smell sour. Maybe it does, the Dutch don`t notice.
        While it is true that halfvolle melk sells in greater volumes, If you look around in the working place, you will see a lot of cartons karnemelk, usually more than ‘sweet milk’. People consuming karnemelk are usually older than people consuming ‘sweet milk’.

    • Serving only one taste in sandwich filling and drink isn’t well bred too. Wonder why your collegues didn’t teach you how to serve an hospitable, international lunch.

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  23. you know what i miss on your blog, BIKES!!!!

    foreigners are often suprised how everyone here owns a bike, rides a bike, and how kids learn to ride one at age 1 and without trainingwheels at age 3 !

  24. ow and by the way, dont know anyone that likes karnemelk either….
    only halvolle melk, and some people volle melk. but karnemelk? no way…..
    so i agree with everyone eklse, that you made a mistake with that comment.

  25. I’m actually a Dutch aged 14, and I’m 1,89 meters tall! BUT I HATE MILK! If milk were a person, I’d be in jail convicted of murder! I used to be lactose intolerant :).
    I think I’ve drunk about 10 glasses or less in my life, but I’m tall too.
    Maybe my ancestors liked milk though!

  26. Given the contention that by SDPL that Dutch people consume about 3 grams of sprinkles per person per day, I am wondering if it not the milk but the sprinkles. Has bio-tech been doing something the beloved hagelslag?

  27. I would like to correct this article. The most popular type of milk is ‘Halfvolle melk’ followed by ‘Volle melk’. ‘Karnemelk’ is in third place.

    Source: Worked in a supermarket for 3 years.

  28. Funny, but I don’t think that karnemelk is that populair at all. The correct spelling is ‘karnemelk’, not ‘karne melk’. I really enjoy the site, even though I don’t always agree with or know what you’re talking about!

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  34. Dear writers of this blog,
    I’ve noticed you writing stuff about Holland that isn’t quite accurate, for instance that karnemelk is our favorite dairy (not at all) and that we kiss everybody at birthday parties. On the latter case, it happens that we congratulate siblings and parents of the ‘jarige jop’ (also not at every party) but not the rest of the guests. There’s no such thing as a kissing frenzy on birthday parties. I can imagine it looked a bit like that if you’re not used to congratulating the family with our typical 3 kisses but it would be nice if you wouldn’t exaggerate and get your facts straight.

    • So, when my entire family kisses at birthdays (and every other family that comes over, boyfriends, girlfriends etc) we are NOT Dutch? As far as I know this is very common in the Netherlands.

  35. I love milk, I drink at least 3 cartons a week if not more, but I find Karnemelk absolutely repulsive.
    And I tend to eat a lot of cheese and yoghurt, so yeah, typical diary-loving Dutchie here.
    I’m pretty short though, not sure what I did wrong there.

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  37. Then I think I’m not a real Dutchman: I hate butter, I hate cheese, I don’t like milk and I don’t like Yogurt. And yes, I’m 100% Dutch ;).

  38. Has anyone ever heard of buttermilk pop? MY Friesians grandmother (Beppe) used to make this all the time. I never dared try it tho.
    O and you should add the phrase eet smakelijk. This same grandmother used say that r4ight before we ate and lekker at some point durning our meal :)
    LOVE this blog! I am an american born dutchie so it has helped me recognize some cultural things about being dutch :) Thanx!

    • karne melk (karnemelk, the Dutch answer to buttermilk…Don’t you think it’s the other way around? I love the stuff!!! And I’m not even completely Dutch. I know you’re trying to keep it funny but wouldn’t it be nice to try and be correct on your info. There are also people that will read this before they come to the Netherlands and believe every word you say. On the other hand it’s not strange when Dutchie reads a couple of your stories, that they get defensive about. You know it’s really hard to except comments on eating habits from people that come from a country with even worse eating habits.

    • Yes, karnemelkse pap met gort (barley grits). As boiling buttermilk is rather complicated, my mother bought it sometimes.

  39. Karnemelk isn’t really that popular, only 1/20 people i know think it is nice, and even less think it is nicer than ordinary milk

  40. I am European but not Dutch, only in my 30s, and I love karnemelk. Unlike most of the Dutchies I do not like sweet milky drinks-it actually really pays to educate your taste buds, by the way – and I never drink the regular milk, even with coffee, if I can only help it. Also, even though I only ever buy the ‘biologisch’ variety, I never liked the taste of Dutch milk. I did, however, like the taste of milk in UK when I visited, contrary to some comments above.
    I do not enjoy the plasticky feel and taste of most Dutch cheeses either but I do like the crumbly old kind.. Just like I always have with cheddar..
    I really love and enjoy some of the good (whole or white) bread that one can find here, but just cannot imagine anyone would miss the type of caramel-died bread I see virtually everyone on the metro eating in the morning-horrible, tasteless, foam-like, mass produced GMO product.. No joy and no health.

    The Netherlands is one of the world’s leading producers of agricultural products and it is common knowledge the vast part of those meat, fruit, and veg are produced using all kinds of growth stimulants (hormones, specialized growing techniques) plus the rich mix of pesticides, herbicides antibiotics and such, which, unknown to many, have very often been developed by the scientists here.
    If anyone reads more on the subject, they will find there are many studies showing the height of the Dutchies is greatly due to the amount of growth hormones in foods they consume and not to the ‘goodness’ in milk, as many people think. To add to this from a sheer biological point of view, drinking milk by adults contributes to early osteoporosis and various other changes following the actual depleted levels of calcium. One can still consume milk products to get some extra calcium in, as long as they have been treated with bacteria that can predigest casein, the main allergen there.
    Milk is for kids, really; that’s why that’s what mother’s breasts produce when they give birth, not throughout their lives, or when they even retire.. In fact, there are enough sources of calcium around us not to have to resort to milk as the main source.

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  44. My Dutch boyfriend loves karnemelk. And he even said that it’s a required taste and not many people drink it like he does. I come from Georgia, US and I must say that it’s like our older people that drink buttermilk so it’s not “odd” to me. I do think it’s odd that my 25 year old boyfriend loves it, especially with Chinese, but to each their own. He also dislikes cheese. Doesn’t make any sense to me but that just means more delicious cheese for me :P

  45. I agree that liking buttermilk (karnemelk) is somewhat of an age/generation thing. It’s gone out of style, really. Kids are now fed banana flavored milk and the like, and once you get used to that type of sweet stuff, the sour taste of karnemelk is a hard sell.
    As for drinking karnemelk (or any milk product) with Chinese food: it’s not as strange as it sounds. Milk is really soothing when eating spicy food. It’s for the same reason you have sour cream on tacos, lassie in India, and ayran (diluted, drinkable yogurt) with spicy Turkish food.

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  48. I admit I found it odd that so many adults drank milk, the lunchroom habits here were a culture shock. Everyone I saw had little sandwiches in bags and a milk. I thought how odd! Now I am the one with the little sandwich and I drink milk more often than ever before. So maybe my offspring will be taller! I am all for it for I am short.

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  52. Doesn’t alot of milk make one fat? Otherwise, I’m interested in the idea. I don’t drink alot of milk because it’s expensive over here, in my country and also because of the former…

  53. I am dutch and I never drink milk its stuff for babies and calves.
    Hmmm…….. and I’m just 1.78 long.

  54. Thank you for inspiring today’s lunch. Which will be a cheese sandwich and a glass of buttermilk – you work with what you have. But I do now wish to visit just to taste this karne melk.

  55. Can someone tell me which store in the USA sells the type of yoghurt they sell in the Netherlands? I mean the regular (full fat) Campina or AH, like you see it there in a carton box?

    I moved to the USA and all I can find is greek yoghurt (don’t like taste of that stuff), activia (which is okay, but I’d like the real thing once in a while) and those chemical tasting little or big cups of yogurt (those that have a printed text on it that says ‘no fat’ or ‘low fat’ (but they contain a ton of sugar…)).

    I’m looking for a plain yoghurt taste, that’s sour, with texture that is not so smooth (like the chemical ones) and not too lumpy (like the greek ones) either. A sour yogurt like the Irish Glenilen Farm would be okay too, which has fruit mixed into the yogurt (comparable to the Zuivelhoeve Boer’n Yoghurt). Or otherwise something like the AH Volle Room Yoghurt, which is like a desert as it tastes like whipped cream (has lots of fat and sugar, but doesn’t taste plastic-y).