For pairing with your breakfast cereal, guzzling down post-workout, or capping off the night, nothing satisfies like a cold glass (or warm mug) of milk. While fresh milk reigns supreme, it has the disadvantage of having to be refrigerated, spoiling easily (depending on the source, roughly 7-10 days for raw milk or 2-3 weeks for pasteurized milk) and not being as accessible to everyone. Thankfully, us mortals have the option of going to the supermarket to pick up commercially-sold milk cartons. These milks are often given the UHT (“ultra-heat treated” or “ultra-pasteurized”) treatment, where the dairy beverage is briefly heated above 135°C to kill spores. This extends its shelf life (about 6 months at room temperature when unopened, and 5-7 days in the fridge once opened) and lets you stock up so you can enjoy milk whenever you please. But the question remains: how do the different brands in the market differ?
Note: We narrowed down the selection to fresh, full-fat cows’ milk with only cows’ milk as the sole ingredient, and took care not to include any “filled” or reconstituted versions. We tasted each brand on the first day of opening and for the remaining days thereafter before spoiling, both at room temperature and chilled.
Arla gives you an especially creamy milk with an especially full flavor. It has a relatively thick mouthfeel for UHT milk and a dairy-rich character. Plus, it has a slight sweetness toward the end that keeps us sipping until the end.
Cowhead’s “pure” milk has a thinner taste and consistency. For the most part it still tastes of fresh milk with a sweetish finish, but you also get a very mildly “cooked” taste (read: Maillard reactions) reminiscent of evaporated milk.
Jolly Cow gives you a more watery version that almost tastes and feels like skim milk. The slight sweetness is there, but you don’t get much of the rounded depth of dairy. If anything, it’s decent for use in your cereal bowl, or other applications that don’t necessarily call for milk’s fatty richness.
Magnolia’s milk is similarly thin and not particularly creamy. There’s a mild sweetness and a slight sourness toward the end. But the overall impression we get is that it tastes (and feels) flat.
Also thin in consistency, Milk Magic goes by a more “cooked” flavor that comes out much stronger than in Cowhead’s. Other than that, it’s sweet with a touch of tartness at the end.
Nestlé’s is an especially clean-tasting milk. It’s not the richest, at least not compared to Arla. But it’s mid-level in thickness, and another decent choice for drinking straight up.
The Verdict: Arla
Arla’s relatively creamy taste and consistency makes it our top pick of the supermarket milk bunch—one we’ll be drinking on its own, mixing into lattes, cooking into bechamel sauces, and more. In a pinch, Cowhead or Nestlé comes close. The latter, in particular, we enjoy for the more pure taste of milk it gives off.