You arrive at a friend’s dinner party and, good hostess that she is, she pours you a glass of wine and directs you to a fully loaded cheese board while she finishes cooking. But oops, you left your Lactaid at home. If you’re sensitive to dairy, you don’t necessarily have to forgo the fromage for fear of digestive troubles later. While you might know cheese in general is lower in lactose than, say, ice cream, we were surprised to learn that lots of cheeses contain only trace amounts. Here, seven low-lactose cheeses to consider.
Want some fresh-grated Parm on that pasta? Most hard, aged cheeses are a good bet, because the majority of the lactose gets drained off with the whey, and even more gets broken down by enzymes during the aging process. Crumbly, grateable cheeses like Parm, grana padano and pecorino are aged for upwards of a year—which means by the time you eat them, pretty much all the lactose is long gone.
No need to crush those grilled-cheese dreams. Cheddar has been reported to contain 0.1 grams of lactose or less per serving, compared to some 12 grams in a cup of milk. While exact amounts vary by brand and type, a good rule of thumb is to check the sugar content on the nutrition label (lactose is a sugar, after all). Pro tip: Sharper—aka aged longer—is better.
The Swiss love their cheese so much, they conducted an entire study to determine the lactose content in some of the region’s most popular varieties. And many of them—including Gruyère, Emmentaler and raclette—clocked in at levels too low to even be detected.
This buttery Spanish cheese is one of our faves, so we’re happy to see it’s not off-limits for lactose avoiders. It’s made with sheep’s milk, which is already lower in lactose than cow’s (though, like goat’s milk, not free of it; a common misconception). As with other hard cheeses, the longer it’s been aged, the lower the lactose.
While not quite as low in lactose as hard cheeses, blues—Roquefort, gorgonzola and the like—are still on the lower end of the scale. Plus, those strong flavors mean a small amount goes a long way. (Because even the most digestion-friendly cheeses are going to have an effect if you down half a block of the stuff.)
Surprise: Not all creamy cheeses are verboten. Certain bloomy-rind cheeses, like Camembert and its milder cousin, Brie, average two grams or less of lactose per serving. Bring on the baguettes.
The Dutch cheese (and excellent sandwich ingredient) can actually vary wildly: It’s usually made with cow’s milk but can also be made with goat’s or sheep’s, and can be aged anywhere from a few weeks to two years. Err on the side of more aged and, as always, check the label if you’re not sure.