Being Lactose Intolerant in the Land of Cheese and Chocolate

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Heres what determines the amount of lactose in cheese

Cheese is actually quite low in lactose compared to dairy products like milk, cream, and yogurt. Most contain less than 2 grams per serving (1 ounce), which is far less than the 12 to 13 grams of lactose you get in one serving (1 cup) of milk. Of course, most people don't just eat 1 ounce of cheese in one sitting, so keep in mind that eating the better part of a cheese plate will probably mean you're having way more than just 2 grams of lactose.

Interestingly, the cheesemaking process contributes to the amount of lactose. Every cheese goes through a slightly different process, but in general, making cheese basically involves removing whey (the liquid part) from milk and then acidifying and salting the remaining curd, says Andy Hatch, cheesemaker and owner at Uplands Cheese. "The manner in which each of these three steps occurs will determine the character of the resulting cheese," including how much lactose is or isn't in it, Hatch says.

For example, soft cheeses like brie as well as hard ones like cheddar or Monterey Jack are low in lactose, but they go through two totally different processes, he says. Harder cheeses have the whey drained out of the cheese vat before the curds are packed into cheese forms for pressing. But softer cheeses, like brie and Camembert, don't have their whey removed until after the curds are put into cheese forms, where "they will slowly drip out of the newly formed cheeses," Hatch says.

"Approximately 97 percent of the lactose [in cheese] is actually lost as the whey drains during the cheesemaking process," Cathy Strange, global executive coordinator of specialty product innovation and development at Whole Foods Market, tells SELF. Exactly when the whey is removed—whether at the beginning or the end—doesn't really impact the amount of lactose a cheese will end up with.

What really determines that is the next step, fermentation, which begins as soon as lactic acid bacteria (which can be naturally occurring or added) starts metabolizing the milk's lactose and turning it into lactic acid. This can begin at any time during the process depending on how a cheesemaker manipulates certain conditions, like temperature, moisture, and salt, Hatch explains. And, he adds, fermentation can happen before whey is drained and after it's all gone—it will only stop when all the available lactose has been converted into lactic acid.

2. Brie Camembert

Brie and Camembert will usually have between zero and two percent lactose. The former’s creamy, earthy taste is partially due to its bloomy rind. Brie is extremely similar to Camembert cheese, though Brie has a higher fat content due to the addition of cream, which pushes it a little bit higher on the zero to two percent lactose range. Brie becomes the smoother, milder of the two cheeses thanks to the cream, and Camembert maintains more of that nutty, earthy flavor.

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4. Provolone

Provolone is another popular cheese whose flavor varies depending on where it is produced. It is usually made from cow’s milk, resulting in a firm, grainy texture. Provolone is pale-yellow in color and sealed in a wax rind. While its exact characteristics can vary, Provolone is usually buttery and slightly sweet. Most Provolone has less than two percent lactose content, making it safe for lactose intolerant individuals.

Processed American Cheese Lactose

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like more than 50 times lower rates than Americans, white or black.

Low-Lactose Cheeses

According to Beemster, a producer of Dutch Gouda, "during the maturation process, the lactose changes into lactic acid." Beemster claims their Classic Gouda (matured 18 months) and XO Gouda (matured 26 months) is lactose-free. However, some of their other varieties of Gouda that aren't aged as long do have traces of lactose. Cabot Creamery, a Cheddar producer, says, "Aged cheeses, such as Cabot's naturally aged cheddar contain 0 grams of lactose. In fact, unlike many other dairy products, cheese, in general, is very low in lactose. Most contain less than 1 gram per serving and should not cause any lactose intolerance related symptoms."

Other cheese types that are aged for long periods of time and are likely to have very small or non-measurable levels of lactose include:

  • Parmigiano-Reggiano (typically aged 12 to 24 months)
  • Grana Padano (typically aged 12 to 20 months)
  • Mimolette (typically aged 22 months)
  • Romano (typically aged 3 to 4 years)

And these are the cheeses that are generally higher in lactose

In general, fresh, wet cheeses like ricotta and cream cheese have higher levels of lactose, Strange says. These same cheeses also tend to contain higher amounts of whey, Joey Wells, senior principal product development and innovation expert for global specialty at Whole Foods Market, tells SELF. Even though they technically have more lactose than their aged counterparts, they still don't have very much. For example, cottage cheese contains about 3 grams of lactose per serving while cream cheese contains only 1 gram—not that much more than what's in those harder, aged cheeses. But again, we're talking suggested serving sizes here, which isn't always how people realistically consume cheese. Just saying.

Strange explains that the process for making fresh cheeses like ricotta and mozzarella is much faster than their aged counterparts, which means they retain more whey and have less time to convert lactose into lactic acid. They're also usually wetter than their low-lactose counterparts because the whey hasn't had long enough to fully drain off.

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FoodCrumbles

We love Food + Science! You may find us experimenting and learning why oranges are orange, why bread rises, or why there’s a hole in coffee packaging. We want to know ‘why’ and love sharing knowledge!

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