Denmark, that Kodak moment of a nation sailing through Nordic nirvana on cargo bikes and an air of invincibility, doesn't really need any more gushing or goodwill. Especially not in the culinary stratosphere, where its Waldenesque return to nature has turned the world onto edible weeds, bugs, and gnarly carrots.
But could Denmark also be blessed with the world's best chocolate milk?
As a Dane, I've always had a thing for Cocio, shaken and served cold out of that trademark glass bottle with the red-and-yellow vintage logo. It is rich in chocolate, refreshing rather than cloying, velvety in texture, and it leaves you with that hint of dryness in the cheeks that immediately sends you back to the bottle for another hit. Hell, even Eva Mendes is happy to hawk it.
I've been intrigued by the number of friends and chefs from abroad who come to Denmark and ecstatically down the brown stuff; it's like finding out that the water coming out of your tab is laced with Class As and liquid gold.
Ask for an "Indian with a backpack" and you get a boiled red sausage with a bun. Ask for a Congobajer—a Congo beer—and you get a Cocio.
To really do Cocio like a Dane you have to drink it at a hot-dog stall with a sausage in one hand, but we'll get to that in a moment. The most important thing is the recipe: milk, sugar, and cocoa. No additives. It so deceptively simple that there must be an alchemist involved.
"The secret, if you like, is the way we produce it," says Mikael Horsbøll, who is head of marketing for Cocio. "Unlike most other chocolate milks, we boil it for about 30 mins after it is bottled so that the sugar caramelizes. This gives it a unique flavour and mouthfeel." The bottles and cans are then left to "mature" for five days in order for the flavour to settle. "It needs a bit of time to rest," says Horsbøll. "You can get a slight burnt note from the caramelization, which gradually decreases."
Today Cocio is owned by the dairy giant Arla, but it is still produced in the Danish town of Esbjerg where the company started in 1951. Its founder, Anker Pallesen, spent weeks perfecting the recipe in his home kitchen, while his wife quickly found an outlet to promote their new product: the hot-dog stall or pølsevogn (sausage wagon), as they are known locally.
However bonkers it may sound to the uninitiated, chocolate milk is to Danish hot dogs what champagne is to oysters. It's become a beverage pairing enshrined in culture. When the first hotdog street stalls opened in Denmark in the 1920s there were restrictions on carbonated soft drinks, so they turned to chocolate milk as an alternative. It's an odd but now obvious match— one made in hangover food heaven—lasting to this day.
Chocolate milk also has its shorthand in Danish hot dog slang, a linguistic artform that is as bizarre as it is politically incorrect. Ask for an "Indian with a backpack" and you get a boiled red sausage with a bun. Ask for a Congobajer—a Congo beer—and you get a Cocio. The latter expression is said to be linked to the rival chocolate milk Congo (its logo featured a smiling tiger holding a Danish flag), which Cocio bought in 1989.
Other chocolate milk brands have come and gone but Cocio prevails. On a Monday in October, Lasse Ottosen had sold 50 beverages at his hot-dog stall in Copenhagen's Islands Brygge neighbourhood; 35 of those drinks were Cocio. "They are still very popular," said Ottosen who has run the stall for five years. "But people want the glass bottles rather than the cans. There is absolutely no difference in flavour if you did a blind tasting, but people want it the classic way."
A sticker on the window advertised that Cocio was also served hot. With the prospect of a few more customers turning up on this blustery afternoon, Ottosen took the last can of Cocio out of the fridge and put it on the toaster plate he uses for breads. He prefers to use cans rather than bottles for heating up; twice he has seen bottle tops blow off. "In the winter when you need a bit of shelter from the sleet and the snow then you want your chocolate milk served warm. And if you come here on Fridays you can also get lumumba (hot chocolate with brandy)."
The woman standing next to me ordered a hot dog topped with all the fixings—mustard, ketchup, remoulade sauce, raw and crispy onions, and pickled cucumber. She didn't need scientific research to prove her point.
"Cocio is the best chocolate milk in the world," she said. "That's just how it is. As a child, I always had my hot dog with ketchup and crispy onions—and a Cocio on the side. Always."
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in October, 2014.