Milk monitor: Taste-testing the best of NZ's fancy milks

by Kate Richards / 01 December, 2018
Nut milks. Photo/Getty.

Nut milks. Photo/Getty.

Kate Richards taste-tests her way from a2 blue top to buffalo to find the best of the fancy milks.

Milk – the lifeblood of our exports. According to global food and agricultural data collected by the United Nations, New Zealand represented 3.1% of the world’s total milk production in 2016 (the most recent figures available).

In the year to June 2018, the country’s dairy exports were valued at $16.7 billion, with processing giant Fonterra dealing with about 82% of the 22.4 billion litres of milk produced in that same period.

But despite one company holding a massive majority share of the market, the chillers in most major supermarkets could bamboozle even a farmer. They’re awash with everything from standard blue top, to soy, to A2, to goat; Fonterra produces 16 varieties of milk alone. But which one to buy?

I sampled a range of animal, nut, and grain milks to see if fancy and pricey really is better. 

To kick things off, here’s a simplified milk glossary:

Pasteurised
Milk that’s been heat treated to kill potentially harmful organisms and extend its shelf life.

Raw
Raw milk is unpasteurised. It cannot legally be sold in supermarkets in New Zealand, only purchased direct from the farm gate or delivered to your home. Sellers must be registered and are highly regulated by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

UHT
Stands for ultra-heat treated and is a step beyond pasteurisation, giving milk an extended shelf life of six to nine months – perfect for doomsday preppers.

Homogenised
Homogenisation is a process that combines two typically non-soluble liquids. In milk production, it usually occurs after pasteurisation when the milk is forced through a small-holed machine at high pressure to break down fat globules so they stay integrated in the liquid.

Non-homogenised
The high-fat cream and low-fat milk have not been combined. After being left to sit, it will separate into two layers: the cream at the top and thinner milk at the bottom.

A2
Most dairy cows produce A1 and A2 casein proteins. A2 milk comes from those cows tested and found to produce only the A2 protein. Though currently unsubstantiated, the New Zealand-based a2 Milk Company claims people who have trouble digesting traditional milk may not experience the same uncomfortable side effects with A2 milk.

Organic
Refers to livestock raised in accordance with organic farming practice. In New Zealand, that means meeting the standard regulatory requirements for your particular product, of which there are many.

Whole
Milk with the cream/milk fats still present.

Light
Milk that has had some of the cream/milk fats removed. Usually contains 1.5% fat.

Trim
Milk that has had nearly all of the cream/milk fats removed. Usually contains 0.5% fat, or less.

Lactose-free
Lactose, a sugar in milk that some people are sensitive to, makes up 2-8% of regular cow’s milk. To remove it, processors add small amounts of lactase, an enzyme that essentially pre-digests lactose. The milk is then ultra-pasteurised to completely deactivate the lactose enzyme.

Plus protein
While generic milk contains sufficient levels of protein for most people, some brands will add extra. They do this using a process called ultrafiltration, during which milk is passed through a filter to collect retentate protein. The protein caught in the filter can then be added back into milk in varying quantities.

Single farm
Milk that comes from only one herd rather than being a blend.

Powdered milk
Pasteurised milk is dehydrated to form a powder. It is often considered a more economical option than the liquid version – and has a long shelf life.

From left: Anchor a2 Blue, Lewis Rd Creamery, Aunt Jean's whole milk and Jersey Girl a2 milk.

From left: Anchor a2 Blue, Lewis Rd Creamery, Aunt Jean's whole milk and Jersey Girl a2 milk.

Cow's milk

Anchor a2 Blue

This year, Fonterra entered into a partnership with the a2 Milk Company after a decades-long feud, but I’m not yet convinced the extra money is worth it over regular blue. A truer white than some of the other milks, it has almost no character on the nose aside from a faint but pleasing sourness. It pours and drinks much thinner than other comparably priced products. As is true with many big brand foods, they’ve eschewed character in favour of consistency.

Cost: $6.39/2L
Have it with: Whatever you like – it’s pretty vanilla.

Lewis Road Creamery non-homogenised

Loads of visible cream in the bottle is a good sign, but once shaken it’s slightly thinner than it first appears. Off-white, with a sweetly pronounced nose. The high fatcontent gives a pleasing richness and viscosity, which makes drinking this milk feel really indulgent.

Cost: $6/1.5L
Have it with
: Coffee. It would take the edge off a bitter long black.

Aunt Jean’s whole milk

So close to yellow in colour it could almost pass for a light butter. Needs a bloody good shake – because it’s non-homogenised, there’s plenty of solid cream in the bottle. Somehow tastes better for being bottled in glass. There’s a really distinct, creamy, buttery flavour: the milk is rich with a lingering finish and luscious mouthfeel. Tastes the way milk should taste – but at a deluxe price.

Cost: $6.49/1L
Have it with: Drink alone to really appreciate the subtle nuances of flavour.

Jersey Girl organic A2 milk

Another full nose. By now, I’ve started to get the sense this is something to do with a single herd product having a more distinguishable scent than a blend. The taste, however, is surprisingly neutral, but still feels premium: satiny texture, slightly sweet, but not too rich. I’d go out of my way to find this.

Cost: $6.98/2L
Have it with: In a smoothie with your favourite fruit.

Kapiti blue top 

Cream-coloured with some sugariness on the nose. The palate is milky if a little flat – pretty pedestrian, but the finish is quite long. Fairly thin, but leaves a bold milk moustache above the lip if sipped too enthusiastically.

Cost: $5.49/1.25L
Have it with: Cornflakes. The run-of-the-mill taste of this milk would complement cereal nicely.

Puhoi Valley Silver Top

Even after two vigorous shakes, some cream globules remained in the glass once it was poured. I slurped one and it tasted like a less-rich version of clotted cream. It smells like baking with faint notes of barnyard (not a bad thing). It has a velvety mouthfeel. I enjoyed the long, vaguely sour finish.

Cost: $6.29/1.5L
Have it with:
Would be good in a cake that called for milk.

Left: Living Planet goat milk. Right: Buffalo milk.

Left: Living Planet goat milk. Right: Buffalo milk.

Goat's milk

Living Planet UHT goat milk

True white in the glass, its nose is a pungent mix of farm animal and cheese, which both translate to the palate. Tastes how I imagine drinking cheese would taste: it’s buttery and sour and has a slight wet hay quality. The consistency is that of regular milk.

Cost: $7.59/1L
Have it with: Use it to make what would be the most expensive savoury scones of your life.

Buffalo milk

Clevedon Buffalo Co

The difference between cow and buffalo milk is similar to the difference between McDonalds and a gourmet burger – both will do, but one is obviously better. Buffalo has a clean nose and white colour. Very luscious. The low yield of milk per buffalo means it isn’t commercially viable to sell, so Clevedon Buffalo Co make cheese with it instead. 

Not currently available for purchase 
Have it with: Espresso coffee (it’s called a silky flat white). If you’re lucky, you might get to try it one Sunday at their stand at the Clevedon Village Farmers Market.

From left: Little Island coconut milk, Little Bird almond milk, Bonsoy soy milk and Vitasoy oat milk.

From left: Little Island coconut milk, Little Bird almond milk, Bonsoy soy milk and Vitasoy oat milk.

Non-dairy milks

Little Island coconut milk

The colour of chalk with a slight grey tinge, I love the tropical coconut smell and taste. For me, it’s more refreshing than it is creamy – like milky coconut water. Thin and light, it would work well in anything from cocktails to soup.

Cost: $6/1L

Little Bird almond milk

House-made at Little BirdSqueezery in Auckland, this was the cleanest-tasting nut milk I tried (you can make your own by looking up the recipe on their website,littebirdorganics.co.nz). It tasted of almonds and water. Little grainy flecks hint at theamount of actual nuts used. Really inoffensive as a milk alternative; hints of muesli with the nuttiness coming through on the finish. You can try it in a coffee, at Little Bird Unbakery in Ponsonby. 

Not currently available for purchase

Bonsoy organic soy milk

If you can make it past the pus colour and unnerving floaty bits, this is a really good example of soy milk. It still has that nutty/plastic smell, but tastes much better. Sweet, creamy, not too thin and the briefest finish. Best soy I’ve ever tried, but not cheap.

Cost: $7.80/1L

Vitasoy oat milk

Why anyone would spend $4 on a litre of oat milk that you could easily make yourself for about 99c, I’ll never know. And why is there sunflower oil in it? Shouldn’t it just be oats and water? Looks like milk but smells like the saddest porridge ever, all yeasty and oaty. No added sugar or sweeteners, but it borders on cloying, with a horrid, chemical aftertaste.

Cost: $4.19/1L

Macro organic rice milk

Very thin in the glass and to drink, it looks (unsurprisingly) like the residue at the bottom of a pan used to cook rice after you leave it to sit for a while: a cross between starchy water and baby sick. Has a cereal quality and tastes like rice pudding from a can. Really sweet – unnecessarily so. Chemical aftertaste.

Cost: $2.50/1L

Pacific Foods hazelnut milk

Highly drinkable, this is like a healthy flavoured milk. Distinctly brown, it’s not pretending to be something it isn’t. The extra nutty flavour makes it worth the near-$9 price tag and, being quite thick, it’s also very filling. It could be less sweet, but that’s a minor gripe.

Cost: $8.95/1L

This article was first published in the October 2018 issue of North & South.

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