Lactose Intolerant? Why You Can Still Eat Cheese
Lactose-free cheese—it’s not a Frankenstein-food dreamed up in a lab somewhere, but real, delicious cheese that’s naturally lactose free or low enough in lactose to not bother people with lactose intolerance.
How can that be true? Sure, cheese starts with lactose-containing milk. But, depending on the type of cheese, two things may happen during cheesemaking to eliminate it.
First, milk is intentionally curdled by an enzyme, such as rennet. The milk forms curds and whey. Cheesemakers strain out the curds and discard the whey which contains most of the lactose. A small amount of lactose is left in the curd, which becomes the cheese that you purchase.
Second, when cheese ripens or ages, cheesemakers add bacteria to the curds to create flavor and texture. The bacteria also eat the lactose and convert it into easily digested lactic acid (not a problem for those with lactose intolerance). Generally, the longer a cheese is aged, the less lactose in it because the bacteria have more time to consume it.
Fresh cheeses, such as ricotta, goat, mascarpone, cream, cottage and feta, do not undergo aging, so they still contain lactose. However, well-aged cheeses, such as Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, cheddar, Manchego, Asiago, Swiss, Havarti or Gruyére, contain little or no lactose. A rule of thumb is the harder the cheese, the lower the lactose. And an exception that proves the rule is Brie. It is very low in lactose because it is aged. Watch our video to see how Brie is made!
Brie and Blackberry Flatbread Pizza
Want to be sure your cheese is free of lactose? Look at the nutrition facts label. Since lactose is naturally occurring dairy sugar, if the label says that there are 0g of sugar, there is less than 1/2 gram of lactose per ounce. That’s extremely low. Go ahead and enjoy!