If you ever felt bloated, gassy or just plain ill after eating certain dairy products, you are not alone. Ironically, shortly after I started this gourmet cheese business I found myself to be lactose intolerant. Certainly a cruel hand dealt from fate, or so I thought. Panic, depression and anxiety set in with the notion of never being able to partake in some of the most exquisite foods. Cheese had become my life and my livelihood. But after doing some research, I discovered that not all dairy products are equal in lactose levels and gourmet cheese can resume its rightful spot in my daily diet (phew!).
Lactose intolerance is a hereditary condition affecting up to 70% of the world’s population. Southern European, Asian and African populations tend to be the most afflicted. Lactose is a type of sugar naturally found in milk and dairy products. Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine doesn’t produce enough of the lactose-digesting enzyme called lactase. So when milk products are consumed, the large intestine cannot easily digest lactose and therefore stomach aches ensue. Cramping, bloating, gas and belly pain are some of the (less gross) symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. The tricky part in managing lactose intolerance is that it affects people differently with some dairy types being easily tolerated (such as yogurt with live cultures) and in varying amounts. To help determine the right mix of dairy your body can handle without discomfort, it helps to know which milk-based foods have lower 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. Turns out that cow, sheep and goat milk all contain approximately the same amount of lactose. Hard, soft-ripened and blue cheeses has less than 1 gram per serving. And most aged cheeses contain virtually no lactose. How could this be if real cheese is made with milk? As the cheese ages during the cheese making process, the lactose is converted to lactic acid.
So, cheese-loving, lactose intolerant afflicted foodies rejoice! If you have been giving gourmet cheese the cold shoulder, invite it back into your life. If you are unsure as to just which cheeses to extend the invitation to (meaning how long a cheese has been aged), take a look at this list differentiating fresh cheeses versus aged cheeses, listed in order of lactose levels from low to high.
Hard Cheese (virtually no lactose per serving)
Firm Cheese (less than 1 gram of lactose per serving)
Cheddar (such as our 3 Year Old Cheddar)
Gouda (such as 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 levels of lactose) – proceed with caution
Chevre (fresh goat cheese)
Mozzarella (including Buffalo and Smoked)
Washed Rind Cheese (higher levels of lactose) -proceed with caution