Egg nog is without a doubt the most marvelous thing in existence. It is sweet, rich, aromatic, and just screams holiday spirit. To the connoisseur, the delicate balance between eggy thickness vs. creaminess, and that of sweetness to spiciness lent by nutmeg and, usually, cinnamon, are unlike anything else as yet perfected by mankind. Unfortunately, there are only 25 days in an entire year (December 1st-25th) on which one can drink egg nog without being a total weirdo!
I evaluated 10 different brands, and a total of 15 egg nogs. I gave them each a score out of thirty-five, based on taste, mouthfeel, viscosity, and color. For my complete scorecard, see the Microsoft Excel file attached below (it is a .xlsx file, so if you have an older version, or if you don't have Microsoft Office at all, email me and I can provide the file in a .txt format).
A local favorite in the Boston area, or at least a common brand, was Hood (Hood Golden EggNog), and, I have to say, I was more than a bit underwhelmed. I found it far too sweet. Whatever spices may have been present were overshadowed by the excess of high-fructose corn syrup, which also provided an unwelcome syrupy feeling on the tongue, neither eggy nor creamy. In my book, Hood Golden EggNog is lucky to get a D+.
I also tried two of Hood's novelty flavors, Vanilla and Sugar Cookie. The Vanilla Egg Nog made no apparent attempt to actually be egg nog; it was just milk, cream, and sugar, with so little egg yolk that it was hardly discernible from melted vanilla soft-serve (as you will see in my upcoming egg nog experiment, I churned and froze it to try to detect the difference. Keep an eye out for that). The sugar cookie egg nog was, like all of the Hood products I tasted, offensively sweet. The beautiful balance that is a perfect egg nog is apparently lost to the folks at Hood. After these three nogs, it became apparent to me that I did not need to proceed with any other Hood products, and opted to skip Cinnamon-, Gingerbread-, and Pumpkin-flavored egg nogs. Altogether, skip Hood this, and every, holiday season.
Another major producer in the area is Garelick Farms. Like Hood, Garelick Farms is based in Massachusetts. It is the largest producer in New England, and now owns over 1,000 farms in 7 states. Impressive numbers, sure, but their nog didn't fare much better under my scrutiny. Again, this nog was just too sweet! While it did have a better nog flavor and aroma, the mouthfeel was just the same, and the sweetness overbearing, but this nog had a very odd tinge to it. It was sort of a snot-beige color. This nog can safely be skipped as well.
At any given time, my apartment is stocked almost exclusively with Trader Joe's products. My unwavering faith to the California-founded chain just made their weak egg nog that much more disappointing. While the flavor was quite good, with an appropriate level of sweetness and a full, deep flavor, it was dead-thin! It had, altogether, the viscosity of milk. As much as a the beautiful aroma filled my heart (and apartment) with holiday hope, the watery nog that spouted out of the carton dashed my high hopes of finding a winner available so close to where I live. At this point, it became apparent to me: if I wanted a good nog, I'd have to get in the car.
Well, it doesn't take long for an urban white guy like myself to find himself at Whole Foods. Here, I bought three nogs. The first was Silk Nog, a soymilk farce on egg nog. It is no surprise that this, which contains neither egg yolk nor cream, failed to even be egg nog, according to my grading system, even with a generous grade boost for not clogging my arteries, which I appreciated. I then contemplated the redundantly titled Organic Valley Organic Eggnog. My knee-jerk reflex was one of love; I very much appreciated the creaminess, and more-so the prominence of nutmeg, which was critically lacking in some of the other nogs. But upon re-evaluation, I missed the sweetness associated with my amorous memories of egg nog from my childhood! In a truly Goldilocks fashion, I decided that this one wasn't sweet enough.
However, the last nog I bought from Whole Foods did not disappoint. Horizon Organic Egg Nog was proverbially just right. Not literally, but damn close. The flavor was perfectly subtle, supported by the sweetness, as it should be! It was beautifully flecked with brown specks of nutmeg, and the hue was spot-on: a pale yellow that feels eggy. Unfortunately, that eggy feeling went a bit too far, and I thought it would have been helped by a bit of cream, to add non-egg thickness.
At this point, I must admit, I was getting pretty sick of egg nog. I knew that I would need to step it up a proverbial notch if I were going to be able to tolerate any more. I went to Cooper's Hilltop Farm, a small dairy just outside of Worcester, MA. I was impressed to learn some details about the farm, such as that most of the feed given to their cows is grown right on premises! The main thing that attracted me to this dairy was their low-temperature vat pasteurization method. Most large-scale milk producers pasteurize their milk at 165˚ for ten minutes, because it is the cheapest and fastest option, especially when you're dealing with hundreds of gallons at a time. Cooper's Hilltop, however, is a much smaller distributor, and can afford to pasteurize theirs at 145˚ for half an hour.
Now, this all may sound like mumbo-jumbo, but when you heat milk up to 165˚, you kill healthy bacteria, stifle enzymes, and you... well, you just kill all the flavor! Many dairy aficionados buy into raw milk co-ops, but that is a whole other article. Cooper's Hilltop Farm produces, hands down, the best milk I have tasted in memory. Counterintuitively, this delicious milk overwhelms the nogginess I expected in their nog. While their milk gets a perfect score, the nog was just a touch underwhelming.
My next move was to go north. If anyone can appreciate a good egg nog, it'd be the folks of Northern New England, where your spit freezes before it hits the ground. Visiting Derry, New Hampshire in December took some willpower, but I did it and I'm glad I did. I went to Hannaford, a Maine-based grocer. Hannaford's brand of egg nog was delicious, but it felt a bit greasy, and left me still yearning for that ideal standard to which I held all other nogs!
At this point, I was starved for the perfect egg nog I remember from childhood. Was there such a thing? Was this yet another delusion I had created, like me thinking someone would want to date a guy who studies egg nog religiously? At Hannaford, I was relieved to know that it was not. Oakhurst Dairy had been a name with which I was familiar since childhood, since I have always spent much of my summers in Maine, where I would frequently indulge on some magnificent chocolate milk. But I had apparently never been to a Oakhurst-carrying grocer in egg nog season, because If I had ever drank this nectar of the gods before, I would not have forgotten. When this succulent ambrosia touched my lips, I may as well have died right then and there, because nothing in my life will ever measure up to such an experience. Until next nog season, that is.
Well, as you can see, this nog-based adventure was more than rewarding. Please take this into account when doing your nog shopping. Even if you're in a situation like mine, it is well worth it to make a bit of a journey up north to buy some exquisite Oakhurst Egg Nog. We also learned an important lesson: seek out small dairy producers, their milk is better.
Until next nog season, fellow nogheads. Cheers.