One of the great pleasures of snacking in Argentina is cracking open the lid of a large tub of dulce de leche and spreading its contents over a thin pancake or bizcochito (miniature biscuit). And today, you have the perfect excuse to indulge your sweet tooth: October 11 is International Dulce de Leche Day.
In 1998, the Argentine Center for the Promotion of Dulce de Leche — a real thing! — established the holiday both to increase consumption of the distinctly Argentine delicacy and to elevate it as an emblem of the country’s national gastronomy. A quarter of a century later, it’s recognized as part of the cultural heritage of the Rio de la Plata.
True to its name, dulce de leche is derived from slowly simmering milk and sugar together over a period of hours. The concoction, which sometimes includes a dash of baking soda, needs to be stirred constantly so that its texture remains smooth and creamy. You’ll know the process is complete when the milk has been completely reduced and the sugar has caramelized.
Although dulce de leche is enjoyed all over the world, Argentina has a special passion for the stuff, producing 100,000 tonnes of the confection, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INDEC, by its Spanish acronym). The average Argentine consumed more than three kilograms in 2023 — up more than 18% over 2022.
“During the pandemic, we were able to observe a change in the way consumers related to the food,” Febricio Musumeci, marketing manager for Milkaut, told Télam. “Convenience and pleasure became pillars of behavior.”
Dulce de leche is also a staple for ice cream lovers in Argentina. In the summer of 2022 and 2023, both dulce de leche simple (plain dulce de leche) and dulce de leche granizada (dulce de leche with chocolate chips) were two of the country’s three most purchased flavors, along with chocolate con almendras (chocolate with diced almonds).
Although Argentines have claimed the sweat spread as their own, its precise origins are a subject of some dispute. According to historian Daniel Balmaceda, author of La Comida en La Historia Argentina, dulce de leche was born in Cañuelas, Buenos Aires province, on June 24, 1829 — specifically during the day’s siesta, when the Argentine military leader Juan Galo de Lavalle met with his rival, Juan Manuel de Rosas.
In Balmaceda’s telling, Lavalle laid down for a nap on Rosas’ cot, startling the latter’s cook, who had been preparing lechada (cow’s milk with sugar) to be served over mate. The liquid condensed into dulce de leche, the pair later signed the Cañuelas pact, ending a civil war in the province of Buenos Aires; and the rest is sweet, sweet history.
—with information from Télam