So, you're lactose intolerant, and maybe you think you just can't enjoy cheese. Not so fast! Contrary to popular belief, there are many cheeses that are lactose free (or very low lactose) naturally.
Lactose is a sugar present in all animal milk - including Goat and Sheep milk. It's a common misconception that these alternative milks do not have lactose, but that's simply not true.
Goat and sheep's milk contain roughly 90% as much lactose as cow's milk.
So how do you get lactose free cheese? It's mostly down to the production and aging process. There are many variables, but as a general rule of thumb, the more moisture in a cheese, the more lactose it contains.
During the cheese making process, whey is separated from the curds - whey contains more lactose than curds, and so cheeses that retain more whey (think of brie or feta) have a higher lactose content.
The biggest contributor to lactose content is how old the cheese is. As cheese ages, natural bacteria break down the lactose and convert it into lactic acid. At around 3 months of age, most cheese has very little lactose. At 6 months, only trace amounts are present.
Aged cheddar, gouda, Parmesen, Pecorino, Gruyere and many others are great options, but the list is very long. We've compiled a selection of our lactose free cheeses right here. Check back as we continue to add new cheeses to the selection.
Aged cheddar is a perfect cheese for those with lactose sensitivity
All that being said, lactose is just one variable that can cause people to have trouble with dairy. Some people have allergies to certain milk proteins. The makeup of cow, goat, and sheep's milk (and others!) is different, such as the casein content and size of the fat globules - these variables can all have an effect on the way a person digests dairy.
I remember working with one customer who thought she couldn't enjoy dairy at all. She thought she was lactose intolerant, so first we tried aged cheeses. She still was experiencing discomfort when eating cheese. Eventually we found that cow and goat's milk cheese bothered her, but sheep's milk cheese, fresh and aged, were fine!
It should be noted that even cheeses that are labelled as lactose free can still contain trace amounts.
So, don't give up if you are lactose intolerant or have dairy allergies. Try different milk types and ages and see how it goes!