If you’ve ever felt bloated, gassy, or just plain sick after eating certain dairy products, you’re not alone. Ironically, shortly after starting this gourmet cheese business, I discovered that I was lactose intolerant. Certainly a cruel hand brought by fate, or so I thought. Panic, depression, and anxiety arose from the notion of never being able to partake of some of the finest foods. Cheese had become my life and my livelihood. But after doing some research, I discovered that not all dairy products are the same in lactose levels and that gourmet cheese can take its rightful place in my daily diet again (phew!).
Lactose intolerance is a hereditary disease that affects up to 70% of the world’s population. Populations in southern Europe, Asia, and Africa tend to be the most affected. Lactose is a type of sugar that is naturally found in milk and dairy products. Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine does not produce enough lactose digestive enzyme called lactase. So when dairy products are consumed, the large intestine cannot easily digest lactose and hence stomach aches occur. Cramps, bloating, gas, and stomach pain are some of the (less severe) symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. The tricky part in managing lactose intolerance is that it affects people differently and some types of dairy products are easily tolerated (like yogurt with live cultures) and in varying amounts. To help determine the correct combination of dairy products that your body can handle without discomfort, it helps to know which milk-based foods have the lowest levels of lactose.
Milk, ice cream, and yogurt are high in lactose (10 grams per serving). When it comes to gourmet cheese, the amount of lactose present is determined by the production and aging process rather than the type of milk used to produce the cheese. It turns out that cow, sheep, and goat milk contain roughly the same amount of lactose. Hard, soft-matured, and blue cheeses have less than 1 gram per serving. And most aged cheeses are practically lactose-free. How could this be if real cheese is made with milk? As cheese ages during the cheese making process, the lactose is converted to lactic acid.
So, lactose-intolerant, cheese-loving foodies rejoice! If you’ve been turning your back on gourmet cheese, invite it back into your life. If you’re not sure which cheeses to extend the invitation to (i.e., how long a cheese has aged), take a look at this list that differentiates fresh cheeses from aged cheeses, listed in order of lactose levels from low to high .
Hard cheese (virtually lactose-free per serving)
Firm cheese (less than 1 gram of lactose per serving)
Cheddar (like our 3 year old Cheddar)
Gouda (like our aged Gouda)
Blue cheese (less than 1 gram of lactose per serving)
Our cave-aged blue
Semi-soft cheese (less than 1 gram of lactose per serving)
Soft-ripened cheese (less than 1 gram of lactose per serving)
Fresh cheese (higher lactose levels): proceed with caution
Goat cheese (fresh goat cheese)
Mozzarella (including buffalo and smoked)
Washed rind cheese (higher lactose levels): proceed with caution