Fresh coconut milk is a marvelous thing to experience but it's hard to find good coconuts in the United States. In Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, you can buy an exact amount of shredded or grated coconut for your cooking pleasure.
I mostly use canned coconut milk, exclusively Chao Koh (nice and creamy) or Mae Ploy (extra rich, bordering sour cream texture). The taste has always been good but not exactly quite like the bright, complex flavors of fresh. The reasons are likely the preservatives that are added and the canning process.
The other day, while developing a recipe that required coconut cream, I stumbled across Aroy-D, a Thai brand of coconut milk that packages the milk and cream in UHT boxes — like giant juice boxes. Per the label, there's nothing but coconut cream. UHT (ultra high-temperature) processing takes foods like milk and flash heats it at super high temps and then quickly cools it down. Some say there's a loss of flavor but I beg to differ when it comes to coconut cream.
The Aroy-D cream was creamy and fresh tasting like freshly grated coconut. It captured the essence of coconut's richness. I opened one of the corners by snipping with scissors and then cut open the entire top of the box. That's the best way to scrape all the coconut cream from the box. There's some thin coconut milk separation but its negligible. I used what I needed and refrigerated the rest. One box cost about $2.50 and there was 1 quart (4 cups). To get that from fresh coconut milk or canned coconut milk would have taken time and/or the same amount of money.
Aroy-D also makes coconut milk in a small UHT boxes and I'll try it out next.
Health benefits of coconut milk (read the post if you're afraid of coconut cream!)