Cheese is a beloved food around the world, but for those with lactose intolerance, it can be a source of discomfort.
Many people assume that cheese contains lactose, but is that really the case?
In this article, we’ll explore the cheesemaking process and how it affects the lactose content in cheese curds. We’ll also take a look at which types of cheese are safe for those with lactose intolerance and which ones to avoid.
So, if you’re a cheese lover with lactose intolerance or just curious about the lactose content in cheese curds, keep reading!
Are Cheese Curds Lactose Free?
Cheese curds are not completely lactose-free, but they do contain very low levels of lactose. This is because the cheesemaking process involves separating milk into whey and curds, and most of the lactose is found in the whey, which is removed.
During the cheesemaking process, the milk is acidified, either naturally or with starter cultures. This step converts the majority of the lactose present in the milk into lactic acid. When rennet is added, the soured milk starts to curdle and separate from its liquid part – whey. Traces of lactose do get trapped in these protein-rich curds, but the exact amount will depend on how much or how little whey is drained off at this stage.
If a relatively small amount of whey is drained off (this happens in the production of soft cheeses), traces of lactose in the curd will be more significant. Conversely, if more whey is drained off (this happens in the production of firm and hard cheeses), traces of lactose will be negligible.
It is also important to bear in mind that any traces of lactose left in the curd will get broken down as the cheese matures. Hence, the more mature and the firmer the cheese, the less lactose it contains.
The Cheesemaking Process And Lactose Content In Cheese Curds
The cheesemaking process involves several steps that help to reduce the lactose content in cheese curds. The first step is acidification, which converts the majority of the lactose present in the milk into lactic acid. This step is essential in the cheesemaking process, as it helps to create the right environment for the bacteria to grow and ferment.
The next step is adding rennet to the soured milk, which causes it to curdle and separate into whey and curds. Traces of lactose do get trapped in these protein-rich curds, but the amount will depend on how much whey is drained off at this stage.
If a relatively small amount of whey is drained off, as in the production of soft cheeses, traces of lactose in the curd will be more significant. However, if more whey is drained off, as in the production of firm and hard cheeses, traces of lactose will be negligible.
After this stage, salt is added to most varieties of cheese before placing the curds in forms and drying them. As the cheese matures, any remaining traces of lactose left in the curd will get broken down by enzymes produced during the aging process. Hence, the more mature and firm a cheese is, the less lactose it contains.
How Lactose-Free Cheese Is Made
Lactose-free cheese is made using the same process as regular cheese, but with a few modifications. First, special lactase enzymes are added to the milk to break down the lactose into simpler sugars that are easier to digest. This step ensures that the final product is virtually lactose-free.
Next, the milk is acidified and curdled using rennet, just like regular cheese. The curds are then separated from the whey and pressed into molds. The cheese is then aged for a certain period of time, during which any remaining traces of lactose are broken down by the natural bacteria present in the cheese.
The length of the aging process determines how much lactose is left in the cheese. Hard and aged cheeses like Parmesan and cheddar have virtually no lactose left, while softer cheeses like Brie and Camembert still contain small amounts.
It’s important to note that not all lactose-free cheeses are created equal. Some manufacturers add fillers or other ingredients to mimic the taste and texture of regular cheese, so it’s important to read labels carefully and choose a high-quality, natural product.
Types Of Cheese Safe For Lactose Intolerance
If you are lactose intolerant, you don’t have to give up cheese altogether. There are many types of cheese that are safe for lactose intolerance, as they contain very low levels of lactose. Here are some examples:
1. Hard Cheeses: Hard cheeses like cheddar, parmesan, Swiss, and gouda are safe for lactose intolerance. These cheeses have very low levels of lactose, as most of it is removed during the cheesemaking process. Aged hard cheeses like parmesan have virtually no lactose.
2. Soft Cheeses: Soft cheeses like brie and camembert contain low levels of lactose, but they are still safe for lactose intolerance as the amount of lactose is very small. However, it is important to note that some soft cheeses like cream cheese and ricotta have higher levels of lactose and should be avoided.
3. Goat and Sheep Milk Cheeses: Cheese made from goat or sheep milk is a good option for those with lactose intolerance. These cheeses contain less lactose than cow’s milk cheese and are often easier to digest.
4. Lactose-Free Cheese: If you want to avoid all traces of lactose, you can opt for lactose-free cheese. These cheeses are made by adding lactase enzymes to the milk before the cheesemaking process, which breaks down the lactose into simpler sugars that are easier to digest.
Types Of Cheese To Avoid For Lactose Intolerance
If you have lactose intolerance, it is important to choose your cheese carefully. While most types of cheese are low in lactose, there are some that should be avoided or consumed in moderation.
Fresh cheeses like ricotta and cottage cheese tend to have higher lactose percentages and should be avoided if you are very sensitive to lactose. Similarly, soft and creamy cheeses like Brie, Camembert, and blue cheese can contain higher levels of lactose and may cause discomfort.
Processed cheeses like American and deli Swiss are blended with whey, which is high in lactose, to make them melt better. These types of cheese should also be avoided or consumed in moderation.
Cheeses made from cow’s milk tend to have higher lactose percentages than those made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. However, even cheeses made from sheep’s or goat’s milk can still contain some lactose, so it is important to check the label or ask the cheesemonger for advice.
Tips For Enjoying Cheese With Lactose Intolerance
If you are lactose intolerant, but still want to enjoy cheese, there are a few things to keep in mind. Here are some tips for enjoying cheese with lactose intolerance:
1. Opt for hard and aged cheeses: Hard and aged cheeses, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, cheddar, Swiss, and Gruyère, are virtually lactose-free. This is because the cheesemaking process converts most of the lactose into lactic acid, and any remaining traces of lactose get broken down as the cheese ages.
2. Avoid processed cheeses: Processed cheeses, such as American and deli Swiss, are blended with lactose-heavy whey to make them melt better. These should be avoided if you are lactose intolerant.
3. Be cautious with fresh cheeses: Fresh cheeses, such as mozzarella and ricotta, have more lactose than aged cheeses. If you want to try these, start with a small amount and see how your body reacts.
4. Try lactose-free products: Lactose-free products are real milk products that have little to no lactose in them. They can be used as equal substitutes for regular dairy products.
5. Experiment with non-dairy options: If you cannot tolerate any milk products without discomfort, consider trying non-dairy options instead of cheese.
Remember that everyone’s level of lactose intolerance is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Start slowly and see how your body reacts to different types of cheese. If you experience discomfort or symptoms after eating cheese, it may be best to avoid it altogether.