Have you ever heard of топлёное молоко́? Baked milk is not a dairy product that frequents markets outside of post-Soviet countries but в России топлёное молоко́ лю́бят все, от ма́ла до велика. And as you will see today, it’s a nutritious drink that has a rich taste and even richer cultural significance in Russia.
*Some images are from author (Akbota Yergaliyeva)
Что тако́е топлёное молоко́?
Топлёное молоко́ has been traditionally heated in ру́сская пе́чь (or пе́чка) and then left for a few hours or overnight inside the warm пе́чь. Сего́дня, те у кого нет пе́чки гото́вят топлёное молоко́ в духо́вке, в мультива́рке и да́же в те́рмосе. (Nowadays those who don’t own a pechka make baked milk in ovens, crockpots, and even in thermoses.) The end product has a beautiful warm caramel color and taste that is sweet and creamy and very soothing. To give you an idea of what it looks like, here is a clip of Donald Duck episode Out of Scale in which Chip ‘n’ Dale were drinking regular milk but as a kid who knew топлёное молоко́ I used to swear they were drinking baked milk – I mean, just look at that delicious creamy color! Though, I highly doubt that an American cartoon released in 1950s would have promoted a traditional Russian drink.
Either way, топлёное молоко́ doesn’t need outside influence to make it popular – it is a beloved dairy product that is also incredibly versatile! Many Russians love топлёное ма́сло, топлёную смета́ну, и коне́чно же ря́женку, пригото́вленную из топлённого молока́. I haven’t yet tried making топлёное молоко́ до́ма and unfortunately my family doesn’t own печка but I’m going to follow this recipe when I do decide to make it (see the link for pictures).
Почему топлёное молоко́ называ́ется «топлёным»? (Why is it called топлёное молоко́?)
Топлёное молоко́ got its name because of a typo! According to many forums, the original name is томлёное молоко́, with an М instead of П. Томлёное is an adjective from the verb томить, as in “to stew or cook something at a very low temperature for a very long time”. But when in the 1930s baked milk was going to be produced on an industrial scale, the factory in Odesa made a typo and distributed the product as топлёное молоко́. The rest is history.
I didn’t know this and used to think that топлёное came from the fact that you needed to топить печку чтобы пото́м пригото́вить в ней молоко́ (to heat up the pechka so that you can bake the milk in it). Speaking of which, ру́сская печка is where, according to the recipes online, you would get настоя́щее топлёное молоко́ (real baked milk).
Below is a picture of пе́чка from a book of Russian idioms that I own. Yes, пе́чка is a very Russian thing!
Numerous Russian cartoons and movies have ру́сская пе́чка in it to symbolize дома́шний ую́т и тепло́ (coziness and comfort). Take, for example, my favorite Тро́е из Простоква́шино:
This is the first scene where Дя́дя Фёдор, Матро́скин и Ша́рик move into their new home, настоя́щая дереве́нская изба́ (a real Russian izba), and there is a пе́чка.
Speaking of which, Простоква́шино is also a brand of dairy products that is considered one of the best and most popular in Russia these days. To read more about the history of how the beloved book and cartoon characters became the face of the brand see here. And yes, this brand does sell топлёное молоко́ as well.
In short, Russians love their dairy products. Or as Матро́скин would say “Что это мы всё без молока́ и без молока́, так и умере́ть мо́жно!” (“Why are we still without milk and without milk — one could die like that!”)