How to Use Leftover Milk

Got leftover milk? It happens to many of us. The carton is nearly full, but the expiration date is getting close. Or maybe the milk is a day or two passed and we pitch it. As a nation, we pour a significant portion of our milk supply right down the drain. According to USDA data, dairy accounts for 17 percent of the food wasted in the US. But does it have to? With a better understanding of those expiration date labels, and a few tricks up our sleeve for putting extra milk to use, we can get way more out of the moo.

Understanding Expiration and Sell-By Dates to Prevent Leftover Milk

Most cartons of milk have one of two “freshness indicators:”

Use by: This date indicates the last day the milk is guaranteed to be its best quality. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s the last day the milk is useable.

Sell by: This date is set by the manufacturer to let retailers know when to remove items from their shelves. The goal of sell-by dates is to ensure quality products, and a safe window of time is built in to account for time after purchasing. Properly stored milk should last five to seven days after the sell by date.

While these dates are guides for freshness, they are not definitive. Many shoppers believe that drinking milk past its date will make them sick, but if you have spoiled milk on your hands, you won’t need a stamp to tell you. Give it a sniff. Does it smell vinegary or sour? Has it separated out into clumps? If it does, it’s probably gone over.

The FoodPrint of Dairy

For in-depth information on dairy production and the crisis facing farmers, read our report, The FoodPrint of Dairy.

Learn More

Storing Milk

The first step in avoiding milk waste is storing it properly. To keep your milk freshest longest, follow these tips:

  • When shopping, pick up milk last so it doesn’t warm up in the cart while you do your other shopping.
  • Skip the extra errands if you have milk in the grocery bags; you want to get that carton back into a refrigerator as soon as possible.
  • Don’t store milk on the refrigerator door, where temperatures fluctuate most. Store it on a shelf instead.
  • Keep your refrigerator cold: between 35-38 F.
  • Don’t let the milk carton linger on the breakfast table or next to the coffee pot. Use, refrigerate, repeat.

Leftover Milk Recipes and Ways to Use Up Milk

If you accidentally bought a gallon but only need a cup, here are some ideas to use it up before it goes bad.

Drink It

Cook It

  • Tenderize meat: Soaking, poaching and braising chicken, fish or pork in milk is a time-tested way to produce a more tender final dish (see recipe below). You can also add up to a cup of milk to simmering meat sauces, such as Bolognese; the lactic acid in the milk will tenderize the dish without making it creamy.
  • Make soup: Recipes such as chowders often get their satisfying creaminess from a hefty dose of milk, thickened with flour or corn starch to keep it from separating.
  • Sauce it up: If you are a pasta lover, then milk-based sauces, such as the mother sauce béchamel and its derivative Mornay, are recipes that you will use over and over again (think alfredo sauce and mac and cheese, respectively).

Turn It Into Dessert

  • Make dessert: Puddings and custards get their luscious texture from guzzles of milk. So does ice cream! Try making a homemade batch. Don’t have an ice cream maker? With this recipe, you don’t need one!
  • Boil it down: Many recipes for Dulce de Leche, the classic Argentinean caramel sauce, start with sweetened condensed milk. But if you want to go ultra-authentic, start with just milk and sugar cooked low and slow, slow, slow.
  • Freeze it: The easiest milk dessert come thanks to the freezer: homemade fudge pops, granita, shaved ice. Why not try them all?

Bake It

  • Turn it into bread: Japanese milk bread is a soft, tender loaf that’s delicious toasted with butter and jam. Here’s a milk bread recipe for a loaf and one for rolls.
  • Eat your cake: Hot milk cake is a traditional fluffy vanilla cake made by adding warm milk to the batter. Served with it’s classic chocolate frosting, it makes a pretty great go-to birthday cake.
  • Milk + bread: Pudding! An easy way to use up leftover bread and extra milk is by making bread pudding. Toss in fruit that needs to be used up, and you’re making an ultimate #nofoodwaste dessert.

Preserve It

  • Make cheese: Turning milk into brie might seem complicated, but there are some simple cheese recipes which will turn your milk from perishable to preserved. These recipes for making your own ricottamozzarella, or queso fresco will show you just how easy it is to whip up your own batch from scratch.
  • Ferment it: Milk can also be used to make yogurt and other fermented foods. By mixing yogurt or kefir with active cultures into milk, you can create a new batch of yogurt, extending the beneficial bacteria and using up your milk jug while you’re at it.
  • Sour it: Turn your fresh milk into tart buttermilk by combining one tablespoon of vinegar or fresh lemon juice for every cup of milk, then letting it sit for about 10 minutes. Use it in recipes such as cornbreadbiscuits and the best fried chicken.
  • Freeze it: You can freeze liquid milk, just make sure there is a little room in the container for expansion. Freezing milk alters its taste and texture a bit but it’s still great for use in cooking and baking.

Recipe: Milk-Braised Pork Roast

Sherri Brooks Vinton
Serves 6-8

This simple method, passed down over generations, yields consistently amazing results. It’s perfect for a dinner party or family gathering when you want something bullet proof that you don’t have to worry about.

At the end of the roasting time, the sauce may look congealed and unattractive. Have no fear. A quick whir with an immersion blender and it will be smooth and pourable.


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 pound boneless pork shoulder
Kosher salt
1 quart milk
3 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
4-6 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard


  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed pot, such as a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Generously salt the roast and add to the pot, fat side down. Brown thoroughly before turning, 5-7 minutes per side. Reduce heat to low. Add milk, sage, garlic and pepper and bring to gentle simmer.
  3. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Cook 2 hours, turning half way through. Remove lid and cook for 1 hour more, turning half way through, until the meat is fork tender.
  4. Remove pot from oven and transfer roast to a platter. Add mustard to remaining liquid and purée using an immersion blender until smooth. (Alternately, transfer mixture to a stand blender and purée until smooth.) Thickly slice roast and serve with sauce on side.

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