Good news for all you lactose intolerant folks: cheese does not have to be off the menu! Even if the cheese is made from real dairy milk, you may still be able to eat it. And if you don’t want real dairy milk, there’s plenty of options for you, too. I’ll explain why and then give you the options.
The Making of Cheese
Even if you start with the same milk from the same animal, you can end up with vastly different products at the end of cheese making, depending on the process you use. You could turn out a creamy ricotta, soft Swiss, or crumbly Roquefort blue. The process, which gives you the end product, greatly affects the amount of lactose in the cheese.
Lactose is milk’s sugar. So your first clue to the amount of lactose in a cheese is to read the amount of “sugar” on the label. If it says “0 sugar” then it must have less than 1/2 a gram of lactose per ounce. (By comparison 8 oz. of milk has 12 g. of lactose.)
Lactose is found mostly in the liquid, or whey part of the cheese. The more whey that drains off in the cheese making, the less lactose the cheese will contain. So, second, look for drier cheeses.
Some types of cheese are set back to “age.” Aging is a fermenting process that turns what lactose/sugar is left in the cheese into lactic acid (this is what makes sour milk sour). So, third, look for how long a cheese has been aged.
Normally people want fat-free or low-fat dairy products, but if you are lactose intolerant this won’t work for you. The fat is the solid part of the cheese. You want more solid and less liquid. So, fourth, look for cheese high in fat.
A man named Steve Carper has created a chart of the percentages of lactose in dairy products. Here are some examples of cheeses. I’ve given just the highest percentage from his chart–most products have a range. To see the complete list visit his site.
- Stilton .8%
- Munster 1.1%
- Edam 1.4%
- Camembert 1.8%
- Brie 2%
- Roquefort 2%
- Cheddar 2.1%
- Gouda 2.2%
- Blue 2.5%
- Creamed Cheese 2.9% (Does this one surprise you?)
- Mozzarella 3.1%
- Parmesan (grated) 3.2%
- Swiss 3.4%
- Cottage Cheese 3.5%
- Feta 4.1%
- Colby 5.2%
- Ricotta 5.2%
- Velveeta 9.3%
- Processed American 0% to 14.2% (depending on the amount of whey added to it during processing.)
As you can see, generally, the softer and sweeter the cheese, the higher the percentage of lactose it has.
Some lactose intolerant people can tolerate yogurt, and if you are one of them, this might be a great option for you. A yogurt cheese is made from strained yogurt. As it strains and dries, the yogurt loses some of its liquid, whey and lactose. This makes it thicker, like a cheese, and lower in lactose.
You can make your own yogurt cheese by tying up yogurt in a cheese cloth and leaving it hang for 1 to 24 hours.
This cheese is often used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking to thicken soups or as a spread.
Lactose Free Dairy Cheeses
There are some cheese maker/distributors who claim to have “naturally lactose free” cheese through the pressing and aging process. Here are three of them.
- Beemster (a Dutch company) its Classic Gouda and XO Gouda cheeses. (Photo on right.)
- Cabot Creamery (an American company) its Naturally Aged Cheddar, Colby Jack, Monterey Jack, and Pepper Jack.
- Boar’s Head (an importer) its Swiss cheese (from Switzerland), Gouda and Edam (from Holland), and Canadian Cheddar (from Canada).
I was in the store today and noticed that Sargentos has several of the low lactose percentage cheeses listed above, and their labels said “0 sugar”. (Sargentos may be a little less pricey and more readily available than those listed above, although I found Cabot Creamery’s cheddar right next to it.)
There is one other way to make “lactose free” real dairy cheese, but it uses a very different process. Green Valley Organics (in California) is one such company. They make “Lactose Free Creamed Cheese,” but they don’t age or squeeze it, or do anything to take the lactose out of it. Instead, they add lactase to the cheese. (That’s the enzyme that breaks down lactose in the human small intestine.) So, it technically isn’t lactose free, but it should act like it when you eat it.
Lactose Free Vegan Cheeses
These are true non-dairy products. Here are some that the Huffington Post and Best Products rated highly. I’ve listed them by company, cheese type, and primary product the cheese is made from.
- Angel Food–Parmesan–coconut flour
- FOLLOW YOUR HEART—Gourmet Shredded Cheese, Mozzarella–chick peas
- Tofutti–Ricotta–tofu and vegetable oil
- My Life Biocheese–“Cheddar Cheese Slices”–coconut oil
- Fiel Roast–“Vegan Chao Cheese Slices“–coconut oil and fermented soybean oil
- Miyoko’s Creamery–“Fresh Vegan Mozz”, Mozzarella–cashew milk
- Daiya–“Vegan Cheese Shreds, Mozzarella“–tapioca and arrowroot flours
- Daiya–“Medium Cheddar Style Farmhouse Block”--coconut oil
- Green Vie–“Gouda Style”–coconut oil
- Violife–“Just Like Gouda for Pizza”–coconut oil and rice flour
- Damona–Brie–clutured soy milk, coconut oil, tapioca
- Vegusto–“No Moo Piquant Cheese”–vegetable oils, potato starch, yeast, rice flour
- Treeline–“Treenut Cheeses”–cashews
- Sprout and Kernel–“Herb and Cashew Cheese Nut Cheese”–cashews and buckwheat
- Punk Raw Labs–“Dairy Free Nutmilk Cheeses”–fermented cashew milk
- Kite Hill–“Creamed Cheese Style Spreads”–almond milk culture
It is amazing the foods that can be made in a lab! These are the well rated ones, so they either taste like what they say they are, or they have other desirable qualities like spread-ability.
Now you know that there is a vast array of cheese options open to you even though you may be lactose intolerant. But here’s a word of warning: do not eat cheese in combination with anything else unless you know what is in it. Things like macaroni and cheese or cheesecake (even if they say they are made with cheddar or brie or some “safer” cheese) can be loaded with extra milk and or whey. (Thrive Market sells lactose free mac and cheese.) Also, read the labels on any processed cheeses. I have found a cheap one that has almost no dairy in it, but others can be loaded with whey.
I hope this look at lactose free cheeses has shown you that there really can be something for everyone. Please leave me your comments and let me know what works for you.