For a drink that holds as much tradition as it does taste, one might think an integral part of the eggnog experience would be gathering around a pot and stirring up this year's batch. For most, though, the experience comes from throwing a carton in your shopping cart and popping it open later that night. This year I figured, if I'm not making it myself, I should at least find out who was – and who was doing it best.
Straus Family Creamery Organic Eggnog www.strausfamilycreamery.com
If you woke up one morning and McDonald's food was healthy and local, made only by well-paid workers, outside on warm days, would it still have that lingering gross taste? Or is that just a function of knowing about its production line? This is what I began to wonder when I learned about the Marin County creamery’s eggnog, which tastes like a rich, decadent McDonald's treat but is also made with only four ingredients, all organic. (Unfortunately, the over-crisp nutmeg and yolk flavors also make it hard to drink more than a glass or two.)
The handsome, if not too wholesome, president of the company, Albert Straus, said coming up with his special recipe was simply a matter of trial and error. He tried a few variations of the basic ingredients – sugar, egg, milk, and nutmeg - in the company’s test kitchen. Once he found the right combination, he asked California Custom Fruit in Irwindale to make a concentrate, which Straus Family Creamery then adds to their milk.
Clover-Stornetta Organic Eggnog www.cloverstornetta.com
In the late seventies, says Herm Benedetti, Clover-Stornetta whipped up eggnog for friends and close customers, spiking it with bourbon. "People loved getting it", says Benedetti, director of Product Research & Development and one of the sons of the company founder. But liability issues forced the Petaluma-based company to stop serving the alcoholic concoction.
Four years ago, though, Clover-Stornetta was finally able to source the ingredients to make an organic eggnog. The first test batch was too sweet and the second too flavorful, said Benedetti. But like the Goldilocks story, the third was just right. "We felt we had a winner,” he said. “So we stuck with it."
Eggnogs are required by law to have six percent milkfat, and Benedetti's version lets you taste it. The yolk and nutmeg are soft complements to a drink that makes you think you're sucking down the middle of a huge Oreo. In fact, the greatest flaw of this eggnog, my favorite in the list, might be this eminent creamy drinkability. After all, if eggnog were supposed to be so drinkable, it wouldn't be around just two months a year.
Organic Valley Eggnog www.organicvalley.coop
Maged Latif, Director of Research and Development for Organic Valley Coop, says the Flavor Order Profile for his eggnog starts with sugar and ends with nutmeg. It took Organic Valley 12 months to get the recipe right right, including time for market feedback research.
When I sipped it, I felt the egg flavor came first, followed quickly by a cream-brigade that put out the sweetened yolk taste before it got gross. The nutmeg came somewhere in between. But both Latif and Emily Strickler, Fluid Category Associate, are proudest of the nutmeg.
"What makes ours unique is that we don't add [fake] nutmeg flavor," Latif said. Strickler agreed, "We pride ourselves on our nutmeg flavor profile.” Because Organic Valley is a countrywide coop of farmers, including many in the Bay Area, eggnog provided the company with a great way to use more of the farms’ resources. "[It offered us] great synergy between poultry farmers where get our eggs with our dairy farmers," said Latif.