Caiti and I went to do the food shopping – groan – at Super-U at La Châtre today.

“Oh cool,” says Caiti as we drive into the car park. “There’s one of those unpasteurised milk machines.”

Photo from the Berry Echo - the machine at Super-U

I am clearly way out of touch. I had no idea these things existed. Anyway, we got our trolley and went over for a look. Sure enough, it was a vending machine for raw milk. It all seemed to be incredibly complicated to start with. It looked like we would have to buy a minimum of some sort of key and 8 litres of milk for 10 euro. That seemed a tad over the top, unless we wanted to go into cheese production. Then Caiti worked out that you could buy an empty plastic bottle for 20 cents, and she found the part where the milk is actually dispensed. It wasn’t clear how much it was or exactly how it worked, so we poked around for a few more minutes and then went off to fill the trolley with food that will be gone within days/hours/minutes depending on how hungry the teens are. Super-U is being reorganised or refurbished or possibly even completely rebuilt at the moment. Chunks of the shop are sectioned off and there’s a real din of drills and bangs and crashes. It’s quite noticeable that when shops do this running conversion work, a lot of the cheaper lines disappear off the shelves since space is at a premium. The expensive stuff stays out though!

I decided to use up my 5 years’ worth of accumulated loyalty points to get a free gift. Caiti and I decided on a wicked looking hand blender with an assortment of attachments. Think of all the pumpkin soup I’ll be able to make with it! (Family joke that needs explaining – the kids would frankly rather starve than eat their dad’s pumpkin soup, which both he and I are addicted to. Pumpkins rock!) Sadly it’s not in stock so I’ll collect it next time we hit the shop.

Caiti cadged 20 cents off me while I was unloading the car to go and play with the raw milk machine. Now, this particular one has been in place since November 2010. It was put there by two farming brothers, Jérome and Charlie Chaumette, who live close by at Sazeray. However, the driving force was Corinne Bouriaud, the manager of Super-U. She’d come across such a machine elsewhere (there are around one hundred of them so far in France) and she thought it would be a good additional service for her shop to offer. So she advertised and the Chaumette brothers saw a golden opportunity. They invested in the special distributeur (vending machine). Every morning they put 150 litres of fresh milk into the machine, where it’s kept refrigerated. (There are extremely tight hygiene regulations that they have to meet.) Lait cru (unpasteurised milk) is 46% fat, but you wouldn’t think so to taste it. It’s light and refreshing, and definitely different from treated milk. With a bit of help from a passing lady, Caiti had worked out how everything worked and had half a litre of raw milk in a bottle by the time I joined her.

It’s a win-win situation all round. The farmers get paid a sensible amount for their milk, customers get top quality milk the old-fashioned way in a place that’s easy to access, and Super-U attracts some more customers through its doors.

I’m glad Caiti came with me today. I made a fascinating discovery. I must stop walking around with my eyes shut.