Pastillas de Leche are one of my favorite native delicacies or sweets. Almost certainly influenced by Spaniards who were stationed here and looking to replicate something sweet and dairy like from back home, pastillas are made of just milk and sugar. The milk and sugar are boiled together until thickened, then cooled and formed by hand into little mini-logs that are often rolled in more granulated sugar before they are individually packed in cellophane and paper. If the mixture is allowed to boil to the point that it starts to get darker in color, almost moccha like, this is known as “tostado.” Bulacan seemed to be the epicenter for pastillas production but lately some of the best pastillas made from pure carabao milk come from Nueva Ecija. Some commercially made pastillas shortcut their recipes by adding condensed milk that results in a faster cooking process but also an extra sweet outcome.
Because its ingredients are so simple, the finest possible quality milk and sugar is absolutely imperative. Lately, I find that the pastillas de leche made with pure carabaoâ€™s milk has far more character, flavor and soul than many of the cowâ€™s milk versions. I have two sources for carabaoâ€™s milk pastillas. First, in the photo up top, is a Pastillas de Leche made at the Philippine Carabao Center at the Central Luzon State University (CLSU) in Munoz, Nueva Ecija. The candy is soft, extra smooth, creamy and rich in taste. While sweet, it is not overpoweringly so. And better yet, it is not rolled in additional granulated sugar which often interferes with the pure taste of the milk/sugar mixture. While it comes in rather small portions, it is heavenly. A small package of pastillas holds about 20 candies and costs about P50 pesos retail. They come beautifully wrapped in cellophane, followed by white paper then white Japanese paper that is expertly folded at the ends.
The second source for carabaoâ€™s milk pastillas is the DVF Farms (Dairy Farms) pastillas from Talavera, Nueva Ecija. These pastillas also have great flavor and a smoother texture than cowâ€™s milk pastillas but they do come coated in sugar which tends to take away from the purity of the delicacy. These are readily available in several farmerâ€™s markets and come in the attractive packaging seen in the third photo at right. The individual candies of DVF are larger than those of the CLSU pastillas and also come well wrapped and boxed. Pastillas tend to get old rather quickly and I would not keep them more than a few days after you purchase them. Mind you, that has never been a problem in our house as several boxes of pastillas can be consumed in less than a day!