Cheese for the Lactose-Intolerant

I love cheese but my guts hate it with the fury of a thousand scorned, female Titans.  I’ll suffer the gut-wrenching after-effects sometimes in the name of amazing pizza or comfort cravings, but generally I TRY  to steer clear. Until now. What’s all the fuss?

ALSO KNOWN as hypolactasia, lactose intolerance is a condition affecting people (mostly adults) who lack a sufficient amount of the enzyme lactase in their digestive systems to metabolize milk sugar, or lactose. For some people, the effects are minimal, and they just sort of put up with it. For others, even a mention of “milk” makes them run in the other direction, clutching their abdomens.^

Gruyere is on the happy tummy list

Turns out, low-lactose cheese exists!  Apparently they aren’t all necessarily found in the super-stinky cheese family either. (I once ate some cheese that I swear to was merely bleached horse manure).

In one of the more scientific studies*I encountered (aka not some dude spouting off about the evils of bovine dairy), the following cheeses containing undetectable quantities of lactose and galactose:

  • Gruyere
  • Emmental (block, sliced and grated)
  • Jarlsberg
  • Parmigiano Reggiano (American Parmesan is aged for only 10 months and is likely to be higher in lactose)
  • Grana Padano Italian Parmesan
  • Mature Cheddar cheese from the UK West Country Farmhouse Cheese Makers Association
  • Blue cheeses like Stilton

Cheeses to avoid include:

  • Gouda,
  • Edam,
  • Brie and
  • Processed cheeses (cheese triangles and cheese spread — looking at you, Velveeta). Cheese spread kinda surprised me since I figured it wasn’t  real cheese, it couldn’t have high milk.
  • WRONG. It has more lactose as milk solids are added as stabilizers and thickeners precisely because it doesn’t have whey in it.
  • Also, soft cheeses are worse since they still have all that wet whey loaded with lactose hanging out, which makes the whole ‘goat-cheese is better for your stomach’ a myth:

Fresh cheeses likely will present a problem, and those with lactose issues should tread very carefully around fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta, cream cheese, burrata, and maybe even brie, depending on the level of sensitivity.^

TIP: “Pareve” or “Parve” Labeled Foods do not contain lactose. Because Jewish dietary laws require separation of meat and milk, the “Pareve” marking is used to identify products that contain neither meat nor dairy-based ingredients.

Now, how to make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich using lactose-appropriate cheeses? I’m up for the challenge.


* Portnoi, P. A. and MacDonald, A. (2009), Determination of the lactose and galactose content of cheese for use in the galactosaemia diet. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 22: 400–408. . Web text:

3 thoughts on “Cheese for the Lactose-Intolerant

  1. I was just looking for this info for some time. After 6 hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your website. I wonder what’s the lack of Google strategy that don’t rank this kind of informative sites in top of the list. Usually the top sites are full of garbage

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