Like most people who love spending time in the kitchen, I get all googly-eyed at a well-organized pantry. But I’ll admit I spend more time looking at photos of well-organized pantries than I do keeping my own in order. One day, I tell myself, I will go to Staples, buy those label thingies, stick them on my spice jars, alphabetize them, and never have to send out a small search party every time a recipe calls for smoked paprika again.
But then, on a recent business trip to France—while the Shop team and I were visiting Emile Henry's HQ in Marcigny, a small town in Burgundy—I found an easier solution. (Okay, okay, I get that going to a Staples is a lot easier than going to France, but YOU probably don't even need to leave your kitchen to make good on this très nifty trick.)
All you need is paper and milk.
I learned about this DIY sticker hack from Jean-Baptise Henry, the CEO of the storied ceramic cookware company that opened in 1860 (he's a sixth-generation scion). In a business meeting, he casually mentioned how his grandmother used to rub a dab of milk behind papers to get them to stick to jars. Say quoi?! I asked (in politer terms, of course).
I was skeptical. A few days after I landed back home, I tried dabbing milk to the back of parchment paper and sticking it to my Mason jar of water. When I saw it was sticking, I immediately ran to my even more skeptical coworkers to show them...then I looked down at my jar and there was no label. Womp womp. They were convinced I must have heard Jean-Baptiste wrong. But I refused to accept defeat, because...why would a fourth generation French matriarch in the family business of luxury ceramic cookware let me down?
Some additional research and a quick email to Jean-Baptiste fixed my problems: It was computer paper I needed, not parchment. And it worked like a charm—so much so that I wrote the words "IT WORKS" on a little rectangle of paper, dabbed some milk to the back of it, and put it on the Mason jar I drank water out of all day. It did not budge.
Jean-Baptiste said that his grandmother mostly used this "convenient and effective" method to label jars of homemade jam; she wrote the name of the fruit and the date she made the jam. The milk-and-paper sticker is still used in the 5-person Henry household today. "This old 'trick' is also very environmentally friendly," he adds; it will yield "better results than any chemical glue."
It turns out that this method is often used by breweries as a most cost-effective way to label bottles of beer. Blogger Jessica Jones of How About Orange suggests adding a bit of gelatin for an even firmer adhesive (her glue formula is 2 tablespoons water, 1 packet unflavored gelatin, and 3 tablespoons milk). But for my purposes, I've found that a dab of milk (whole or 2% only) does just fine. To remove the label, run the jar under water and you can gently scrape the paper off. This method works best on glass, but I've used it on my ceramic utensils crock and it has worked just as well on there, too.
In a matter of time, I found myself removing labels from the small glass spice jars I bought at the grocery store and putting on my own labels, with little notes like "go easy with this one." I noticed I had three different bottles of cinnamon—one of those ingredients I always forget I have, so I keep buying more. I tore off their labels and consolidated them into one, putting the earliest expiry date on my new paper label. I ripped off the paper on the now-empty jars, and filled them with other spices that I then labeled accordingly. It was thoroughly relaxing.
Next time friends come over, I plan on using milk label name tags on their wine glasses in lieu of charms. It's more, er, rustic, but I don't own wine charms anyway. Plus, I want every opportunity to talk about how the secret to a more organized pantry was hiding in my fridge all along.
Have you used this milk trick before? Let us know in the comments!