Trends and tricks for an old favorite

The milk section in my regular supermarket stopped me cold the other day ― 33 feet of shelves filled with 27 varieties of this liquid protein. A veritable Milky Way. Obviously, products from Western dairies are evolving, from the outside in.

First off is the packaging. Dairy marketers want to make it just as easy to reach for a container of milk as to grab a soda or bottle of juice when you want a refreshing beverage. Sleek, drinker-friendly, easily transportable, and resealable bottles are appearing everywhere. Made of either translucent or opaque plastic, many have oversize openings with screw-on lids. Ironically, at the other end of the spectrum, producers have revived old-fashioned glass bottles to feed our yen for nostalgia.

Flavored milks, of course, aren’t new. But new flavors, both natural and artificial, are cropping up ― everything from blueberry to root beer.

Even the way some milks are produced and processed is shifting ― and these developments are getting star billing on bottles and cartons. A few traditional dairies now offer organic milks, produced without chemical fertilizers or bovine growth hormones, as part of their regular lineups. Others sell milks produced just without the hormones. And cream is once again rising to the top: More pasteurized but unhomogenized (“cream top”) milks are available.

To sort out the merits of the new products, we staged a blind tasting of 18 plain and flavored whole milks, ranging from supermarket brands to organic varieties. No simple preference curve emerged over differences in flavor, sweetness, and richness (although the differences were obvious) ― rather, our opinions rode a roller coaster of individual tastes. We surprised ourselves, however, by favoring a common house brand of plain milk over the organic or specialty milks, proving that preference is often a function of familiarity.

Here are four quick recipes that show off milks, both plain and flavored, in all their timeless glory.

Italian-style Milk Soda

Spiced Banana Licuado

Frosty Milk Punch

Soft Milk Pudding

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