Cereal Eats: What's the Best Milk for Cereal?

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

When I started this column, my love of cereal was closely partnered and nearly inseparable from my love of icy cold, water-thin and lightly sweet skim milk. Yum, with a description like that, who could argue? Well...as it turns out, a lot of people could and did. I get quite a few comments and even more in-person commentary at SEHQ about how skim milk is closer to water than dairy. But I've always held my ground—until now.

It all started last week, when our wonderful little neighborhood market Nolita Mart ran out of the 2% version my favorite milk for coffee. Between the choices of skim and whole, I choose the full-fat version, albeit a little nervously. For the past few mornings, my coffee has been rich and creamy and pretty much perfect. What white magic is going on in there? I thought, examining the bottle. Ben told the funny story about how once, while on vacation, his dad noted that the Cheerios were better there than they were at home. His mom pointed out it was because he was eating them with whole milk. On the outside I was laughing but inside I was panicking. Whole milk...is the answer? Have I been doing it wrong this whole time?

Let's see if I can't blame some of this on my mom. I will never EVER forget the period of time when she suddenly decided that dairy in general wasn't good for you, and for what seemed like an eternity (but was probably 2 weeks) we had rice milk for our cereal. Now, I don't want to get down on people who prefer soy or almond or rice milk, so I'll try to put it nicely and say that rice milk in cereal tastes like sickly sweet, somehow-always-too-warm poison.

It ruined every bowl and nearly turned me off cereal for good. It was almost enough to turn me off of all non-cow milks for life. But wait a minute. This doesn't prove my point at all. It occurs to me that rice milk is actually quite similar to skim. Both are eerily thin and watery, plus they both have that alien sweetness.

Suddenly, I'm not sure of anything anymore.

The reason I've been stuck on skim milk for so long was because I figured it just gave me an opportunity to eat more. Its lighter body and less caloric status allows for nearly endless and breathless bowls of cereal. A recent brush with whole milk came when I was rediscovering Grape Nuts. After so many people talked about how they eat them with cream, I felt I was allowed to try the less-decadent whole milk. It was utterly incredible.

For the sake of research, I attempted the same experiment with some Honey Nut Cheerios. It was nice to not have the added sweetness of skim, but the cream factor was just a bit too high. Ah, but 2% would be the perfect companion.

This might be getting out of hand. Is it possible that every cereal is different in its milk needs? Are we really going to start pairing cereal with milk? What about flavored milks? Where does yogurt fit into the mix?

Milk preference is a very personal thing. I've learned a lesson never to turn up my nose at the whole milk lovers and I hope they can pay me the same courtesy when I break out the skim. And yet I'm left with so many questions. Will I ever try rice milk again? Is 2% the answer to all of our problems?

As always, these are the pressing questions we deal with here on Cereal Eats. And as always, your comments and input are desired. I'm ready to hear it again with an open mind.

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