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January 18, 2024 9 mins

If you're lactose intolerant, you might want to take a pill or three before you listen to this curious pair of delicious stories.

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales are right there on display, just
waiting for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

When it comes to sweet treats, ice cream is a classic.
A hot fudge Sunday, a banana split, a double dip
waffle cone. You won't catch me turning any of these
delicacies down. But as much as I enjoy a pint
of Ben and Jerry's, there's one dairy connoisseur that I
will never be able to compete with. His name is
John Harrison, and he was born to eat ice cream

in eighteen eighty, decades before John even existed, his great
grandfather opened two ice cream parlors in New York City.
Later on, his grandfather created Tennessee's first dairy co op.
His uncle founded at ice cream factory in Memphis. His
father operated a dairy ingredient company in Atlanta, Georgia. So
when John was born in nineteen forty two, he basically

had dairy in his blood. As he grew up, John
loved the vanilla cone just as much as the next kid,
but his appreciation went beyond what you might call well normal.
You see, John helped his dad out at work by
tasting various milk products, and it soon became clear that
he had a particular talent. John had such a discerning
palate that he could taste the smallest differences in dairy.

For example, he could eat a spoon of ice cream
and determine exactly how much fat it contained in the milk,
down to a fraction of a percent. But despite this
bizarre ability, John wasn't sure that he wanted to join
the family business. As a young adult, He considered a
career as a lawyer or a doctor, but a ring
to him he felt that God was calling him back

to the dairy industry. In nineteen eighty, he submitted an
application to Dryers, which was the biggest ice cream company
in the United States. Three days later, they offered him
a position at their headquarters in Oakland, California. John's title
was the head ice cream taster. Now, before we move forward,
I know what you're thinking. Eating ice cream all day
sounds like the greatest gig ever, right, But it's not

as easy as it sounds. His job was to ensure
quality and consistency. The flavor, texture, and distribution of the
ingredients in every batch had to be perfect. If something
was even slightly off, it was John's job to say,
throw it all out. And when you're dealing with thousands
of gallons of ice cream, making that call is a
huge responsibility, one that John did not take lightly. Naturally,

he took a lot of measures to make sure that
his taste buds were top notch. First of all, he
always ate off a golden spoon. That's because wood and
plastic gave off a residual flavor, and silver would tarnish.
During the week, John kept to a strict diet. He
avoided onions, garlic, spicy food, caffeine, and anything else that
could alter his tasting abilities. He never smoked or drank

alcohol either. Every morning he had a cup of decaffeinated
herbal tea to cleanse his palate, and when John got
to work, he stood in front of a lineup of
about sixty different ice cream flavors. He dipped his golden
spoon into each one, placed the dessert on his tongue
and swirled it around in his mouth for exactly five seconds.
Once he determined whether or not the batch was suitable,

he spat it back out, took a sip of lukewarm water,
and moved on to the next one. So no, John
was not ingesting gallons of ice cream every day. He
could have if he wanted to, but he chose to
save his cholesterol levels instead. John retired in twenty ten.
Over the course of his thirty year career, he estimates
that he tasted and approved about two hundred million gallons

of ice cream, but he rejected quite a bit as well.
In night ninety alone, Dryers had to give away about
half a million gallons of subpar ice cream because they
didn't meet John's high standards. The following year, nineteen ninety one,
the company spokesperson told the La Times, and I quote,
John's tongue is so crucial to our business, which is

why Dryers actually took out an insurance policy on his
taste buds. During his time at the company. John's tongue
was insured for the incredible sum of one million dollars.
That's what I call having expensive taste. We all know

that famous and powerful people can be a little well eccentric.
Benjamin Franklin was a big fan of air baths, which
just meant that he liked to sit naked in front
of an open window on a breezy day. Queen Elizabeth
I almost exclusively ate sweets, to the point that her
teeth rotted out of her mouth. Vincent van Goh swallowed
yellow paint, Albert Einstein refused to wear socks, and Madame

Marie Curie kept radioactive test tubes in her pockets. But
there's one world leader with a particularly interesting quirk, one
that he believed could change his country forever. Fidel Castro
was obsessed with milk. His love for dairy knew no bounds,
regular milk, yogurt, cheese, it didn't matter. Castro wanted it all.

He often took down as many as eighteen scoops of
ice cream after dinner. Once the US government tried to
assassinate him by spiking his daily milkshake. He survived, of course,
but he started making others taste test his desserts. Beyond
just loving a good bowl of froyo, Castro believed that
milk could save the Cuban economy. You see, after he
rose to power in nineteen fifty nine. The country was

in a state of despair. More than half of their
food supply was imported, so when major world powers stopped
trading with them, malnutrition became a widespread problem. The Cuban
people were starving, but Castro had an idea for how
to fix that. He wanted to breed a special fleet
of livestock to feed the nation. In his mind, there
would be thousands of these so called supercows, and they

would make millions of gallons of milk. In the mid
nineteen sixties, Castro assigned government scientists to make it happen.
They interbred two different types of cows, the Cebu, which
was native to Cuba's tropical environment, and the Holstein, a
Canadian breed known for its high milk production. Sadly, though
there would be no convoy of supercows, the scientists only

managed to create a single one. But what an impressive animal.
She was born in nineteen seventy two. Her name was
Ubrey Blanca or white Utter in English. She was the
apple of Fidel Castro's eye. At a time when most
Cubans didn't have climate controlled homes, Ubrey lived in an
air conditioned stable. She was protected by armed military personnel,

and all of her food was tested on other animals
in case someone tried to poison her. To make her
four daily milkings more comfortable, calming music was piped into
her stable, and all of this luxury paid off too.
On average, Ubra created about four times as much milk
as a regular cow. In nineteen eighty two, she produced
twenty eight point nine gallons in a single day, which

was a new world record. Clearly she was special. Castro
called her the nation's great champion. When he met with diplomats,
he was always talking about his prized bovine. Sometimes he
would even bring foreign dignitaries in to meet her in person.
That's because Ubre Blanca was more than livestock. She was
a symbol of Cuban ingenuity and abundance. She became a

sort of national mascot, once having her image printed on
postage stamps. Ubra Blanca had a few calves, but none
of them could match her high milk production. It seemed
that she was a one of a kind miracle, and
no matter how hard the government scientists tried, they couldn't
make another cow like her. So when she fell ill
with a life threatening tumor in the mid nineteen eighties.

Castro was distraught. Knowing she would likely pass away soon,
he called for her eggs and other genetic tissues to
be harvested and kept for later research. Ubre Blanca died
in nineteen eighty five, but Castro ensured that she did
not go quietly. She received military honors, a full page
obituary in the state newspaper, and a eulogy written by

the poet Laureates of Cuba. A giant portrait of her
was hung in the National Library, and a marble statue
of her likeness was installed in the town where she
once lived. And as if that weren't enough, Ubra Blanca's
embalmed body is now permanently displayed at Cuba's National Cattle
Health Center. Her legacy will not soon be forgotten, at
least not if the Cuban government has anything to say

about it. In two thousand and two, it was reported
that Fidel Castro was attempting to clone the supercow using
DNA harvested in the eighties. Whether or not the project
worked is unknown, but the whole idea is utterly curious.
I hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet

of Curiosities, subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn
more about the show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com.
This show was created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership
with how Stuff Works. I make another award winning show
called Lore, which is a podcast, book series, and television show,
and you can learn all about it over at the

Worldoflore dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

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