If you ever glance at British newspapers or websites, you may have noticed recent headlines about Cadbury Creme Eggs, those large ovoid Easter candies filled with cloyingly sweet fondant. Headlines like “Nation in shock as Cadbury’s changes the Creme Egg recipe.” And “Shellshock! Cadbury comes clean on Creme Egg chocolate change.” And “Outrage as Cadbury’s owner changes Creme Egg recipe.”
The source of all the shock and outrage was a decision to revamp the Creme Eggs’ chocolaty shell: Instead of being made from Cadbury Dairy Milk, the shell will now be made from “standard cocoa mix chocolate.” “The Creme Egg has never been called the Cadbury's Dairy Milk Creme Egg,” a Kraft spokesperson told the Sun. “We have never played on the fact that Dairy Milk chocolate was used.”
Britons begged to differ. “Tell that to the Dickensian little boy holding one of the new Creme Eggs in his cupped hands and weeping, Kraft,” wrote the Independent’s Christopher Hooton. The Guardian’s Adam Gabbatt agreed. “Without the Dairy Milk shell—and I say this without having tried the new product, obviously—we are left with nothing less than an abomination,” he wrote. “This new Creme Egg is a Creme Egg that is barely worthy of the name.”
Even setting aside the writers’ obvious sense of the humor in this matter, these reactions struck me as extraordinarily vehement. I cannot imagine a popular American candy getting so much flak for changing the formula for its chocolate coating. Clearly, Dairy Milk occupies a special place in the hearts of Britons. But what is Dairy Milk, other than a redundant pair of words? I always thought it was just regular old milk chocolate.
It turns out I was wrong. Dairy Milk can’t even legally be called chocolate in the U.S. because it contains vegetable oil. But it’s important to note that the candy sold under the Cadbury Dairy Milk label in the U.S. is not the same thing as real British “Cadbury’s” Dairy Milk. (Brits typically use the possessive Cadbury’s, even though the brand name officially has no S at the end.) In America, the Hershey Company manufactures both Cadbury Dairy Milk bars and Cadbury Creme Eggs, using slightly different recipes from the British originals. Brits everywhere agree that American Cadbury Dairy Milk is vastly inferior to their “Cadbury’s.” So if you are an American, and you’ve never gone out of your way to purchase a U.K.-manufactured Dairy Milk bar, you cannot understand this British culinary institution firsthand.
So what makes real Cadbury Dairy Milk different from other kinds of milk chocolate and milk-chocolate-like products? The short answer is: a lot of milk—and not powdered milk or condensed milk, fresh milk. In 1905, according to the Cadbury website, British chocolate maker George Cadbury Jr. “was given the challenge to develop a milk chocolate bar with more milk than anything else on the market,” apparently believing that this was the key to making better chocolate than the Swiss. (The nonsensical name was supposedly suggested by a customer’s daughter.) Twenty-three years later, Cadbury began advertising that Dairy Milk contained “a glass and a half” of fresh milk per 8 ounces of chocolate—a motto that has persisted in Cadbury advertising to this day. According to Cadbury, the freshness of the milk is crucial to the chocolate bar’s flavor. Here’s a typical bit of marketing blather from an FAQ on a Cadbury-associated site:
Why use anything else? Fresh milk gives Cadbury Dairy Milk such a creamy taste and texture. Other chocolate bars are made with powdered milk. Surprised? Look at the ingredients list. But, for us, only fresh, liquid milk will do.
The site never actually gets around to explaining why fresh milk is better than dried milk, which is probably because there is no reason. (The liquid has to be removed at some point in order to make a chocolate bar solid—does it really matter whether it happens before or after the milk is mixed in?)
At this point you may be wondering: What is the effect of all this milk, in terms of flavor? Candy reviewer Cybele May, doing the Lord’s work at Candy Blog, conducted a side-by-side taste test of the U.K. Dairy Milk and the American Dairy Milk in 2009. She described the British version as very sweet and fudgy in texture, adding:
The bar smells sweet and rather cheesy, like cottage cheese or maybe yogurt. The cocoa notes are sweet, more like chocolate cake than cocoa. … the closest I can get is this smells like a rich chocolate cheesecake.
It’s worth noting that the U.K. version of Dairy Milk has changed since May tasted it—Kraft bought Cadbury in 2010, and in 2012 the company changed the shape of its Dairy Milk bars, making their segments round instead of square. But the point stands: real Cadbury Dairy Milk smells like chocolate cheesecake, and that is why Britons are so upset that it will no longer appear on the outside of their Creme Eggs.