For those who are not allergic, it's a time-honored tradition to get a bit nutty around the holidays. The classic mixed nuts become a staple party item, and all of a sudden it makes sense to display a china bowl full of walnuts in the shell, with a handy nutcracker alongside - an implement so holiday-essential it's the title character of the season's signature ballet.
And during this particular holiday season, nut-based milks - above and beyond the now-traditional almond, coconut and cashew - are now coming on stronger than ever, with the makings of a perfect holiday blizzard of flavorful treats.
While the still-in-committee "Dairy Pride act" strives to enforce labeling with only the "traditional" meaning of milk (let's not forget that a tree nut, coconut, also has this claim to tradition), the number of alternatives keeps increasing, so it's interesting to see how they wound up naming these things, but even more interesting to taste them.
The anchor of this whole exercise was a shipment from Elmurst Milked, a 90-year-old New York former family dairy that ditched animal usage to milk what they could out of nuts, and that's reflected in their four flagship dairy alternatives - Milked Almonds, Milked Cashews, Milked Walnuts and Milked Hazelnuts. See? The products don't use the noun "milk" at all - no problem! Something tells me these folks are "milking" more than the nuts involved, but it's to a good end, as all four of these milked varieties were quite tasty.
Out of all the nut-based beverages I tried, the milked walnuts made the biggest impression, maybe because I'd never had walnut milk and the inner nut's waxy innards combined with the papery inner skin has a particularly distinctive dry aspect I hadn't expected from a beverage. Don't get me wrong, it's a quenching fluid, but the first few swallows my mouth felt confused, like, "where's the crunch?"
This odd blend may be due to the "traditional cold milling" process Elmhurst uses for its walnut milk, as explained on the container. There you'll also be reminded that Elmhurst uses 8 walnuts in every glass, unlike "THEM," whoever they are ("Truthy Walnutmilk"?) who add Thickeners and Emulsifiers, and use only 2 walnuts per glass. Obviously I haven't had this Truthy Walnutmilk item, but judging on the evidence in my glass, 8 walnuts is the perfect amount.
The Milked Cashews variety from Elmhurst also put in a strong showing, but nowadays you can get cashew milk at, like, the drugstore, so it doesn't have that same exotic cachet. The almonds and hazelnuts were also good, but as for the former, we're blessed here in Philly region with rival artisinal-almond-milk companies that are hard to beat, and Elmhurst's didn't make me forget about them. The hazelnut, on the other hand, was very rich and authentic in hazelnut flavor, for those die-hard hazelnut fans (sadly, I'm not one).
As of this fall, Elmhurst varieties can be found around these parts at Weis and Giant supermarkets.
A different workaround to the "milk" moniker is evident in the product called "MALK" - not an intrinsically appealing name, but it also seems to be both embracing and tweaking the proposed "Dairy Pride" restriction.
For the best holiday spirit, I tried the maple flavor of pecan-based Malk (found it at MOM's), and it was very good, though I could only imagine using it in sweet, desserty connotations - you know, like the stuff in which you'd use pecans. Over the previous holiday weekend I drank it with some homemade pecan pie and that was a pecan-squared treat! Though I only tried the sweet-themed maple, I'd say regular pecan, or Malk's unsweetened cashew or almond, would be adaptable to savory situations.
Malk, an all-organic line, also proudly rejects "binders, fillers or thickeners of any kind" on its label - adding, in all-caps, "NO CARRAGEENAN." Good to know!
While as I said the walnut milk was a standout - admittedly, mostly because of the novelty to me - the overall smoothest-drinking beverage was, unsurprisingly, the macadamia milk, Milkadamia. Creamy, full and sweet with just a touch of vanilla, it delivered on the promise of a nut so soft and creamy it's practically already liquid as is. Milkadamia (also available at MOM's) comes from the family-owned Jindilli farm in Australia, with groves "situated in the very region where the tree originated, with just the right combination of sunshine and rainfall to ensure the best-tasting macadamias."
With conditions that primordially perfect, it's worth noting that this is the only one of the bunch that has additives - such as calcium phosphate, locust bean gum, sunflower lecithin and gellan gum - to get it to that perfect texture. But it definitely gets there.
We've said it before but it's truer than ever - with all of these, plus oat, flax, hemp, pea, quinoa, and any number of other plant-based milks crowding onto grocery shelves, there's no need to get involved in ruining the lives of cows and their calves in order to enjoy the tastiest holidays ever. Dairy can keep the "pride," as far as we're concerned, we'll keep the clean, refreshing, animal-free appeal.
And to help kickstart fresh traditions, here's a holiday staple in vegan form, c/o Elmhurst. Peace!
Milked Cashews Vegan Eggnog
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1 pinch clove (or more depending on your preference)
2 cups Milked Cashew
OPTIONAL: 1/2 cup coconut milk or small cube silken tofu (for thicker eggnog)
OPTIONAL: 2 tbsp rum and 2 tbsp bourbon
Add first four ingredients (dry ingredients) in a bowl, blending well with a hand blender. Slowly pour in the milk and the alcohol to avoid spillage and ensure they are fully incorporated. Move hand mixer up and down while blending to
incorporate air pockets for a frothy texture.
Chill until cold.