What Is A Hokkaido Milk Tart And What Does It Taste Like?

The world of miniature custard tarts is a vast one. Practically every country has its own spin on the classic confection — whether it's Portugal's pastel de nata or South Africa's melktert — and Japan has created a twist on the tart that's here to stay. Hokkaido milk tarts, also commonly known as Hokkaido cheese tarts, are Japan's entry into the custard-tart arena. Lactose intolerants beware: These dairy-filled delights are similar to their cousins in size and appearance but stand out in a few noteworthy ways.

Hokkaido milk tarts always use milk from dairy cows bred and farmed on the northern island of Hokkaido. Their distinctive milk gives these tarts their signature taste, and it also lends its properties to the second element that makes these tarts unique: cheese. The tart's creamy filling is partially composed of a cheesy mousse made from a cream cheese blend containing milk from Hokkaido cows. These elements work together to create creaminess, tanginess, and a bit of saltiness that set Hokkaido milk tarts apart from other popular custard-tart varieties.

What makes Hokkaido milk special?

To properly understand Hokkaido milk tarts, you must also understand what Hokkaido milk is and what sets it apart from your average carton. Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, has vast tracts of fertile, pristine grassland where its cows freely graze, and the country's dairy industry, rather than using a more industrial farming approach, takes full advantage of these areas. If you're at all familiar with top-class wagyu beef, you know that farmhands tend their cows with extra care and attention to ensure they produce a premium product. Likewise, the result from Hokkaido's free-roaming dairy cows is velvety, rich milk with a natural sweetness that has earned worldwide praise for its taste.

Hokkaido now produces about 50% of the milk consumed in Japan, as the product has grown in popularity over the years. With that popularity comes an increased demand for other dairy products made from Hokkaido milk, including ice cream, cheese, butter, and more. You can even find Hokkaido milk specialty shops in America, as well as menus boasting their use of the product by including "Hokkaido milk" in the name.

Where to buy Hokkaido milk tarts

Even if you're not located in Japan, several brands, like Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart, can send you these delicate delights pre-cooked or frozen so you can enjoy them how you like. Popular conveyor-belt sushi chain Kura also includes Hokkaido milk tarts on its menu, for those fortunate enough to live near one.

If you happen to visit or live in Japan and want to try Hokkaido milk tarts, you're in the right place. Since the craze kicked off in the early 2000s, several branches across the country have popped up to serve the masses, such as Bake, Pablo, and Cheese Craft Works. Most brands specializing in milk tarts also have stores in Tokyo, so the majority of tourists who visit the country need only look up which one is nearest them in Japan's capital city. Of course, if you're on a real milk-tart pilgrimage, no place is a safer bet than the city of Sapporo in Hokkaido itself. There, you'll likely find many locally made tarts that use only the freshest Hokkaido milk.