What Cheeses Are Lactose Free?

Have you been leading a cheese-deprived life because you are lactose intolerant? We’ve got great news for you. Read on to find out what cheeses are lactose free.

What is lactose?

lactose molecular structure
Molecular Structure of Lactose

Before we start talking about what cheeses are lactose free, let’s take a step back and talk about lactose. Simply, lactose is a carbohydrate (sugar) that occurs naturally in milk. And when I say milk, I mean milk of any animal source.

Why does it matter whether a food product contains lactose or not?  

Actually, a small percentage of humans don’t produce a substance (enzyme) called lactase. You might have guessed its role from its name. Indeed, lactase breaks down the lactose we consume into a form that our body can digest.

Consequently, people who can’t produce lactase are said to be lactose intolerant. The symptoms of this intolerance can include loose bowel motions, wind and a general feeling of being bloated and uneasy. 

How much lactose is in milk?

So, going back to our milks above. Cow’s milk contains on average 4.8g/100g of lactose whereas sheep’s milk is typically around 4.7g/100g and goat’s milk 4.2g/100g. 

Statistically speaking, people who are lactose intolerant start to show symptoms of discomfort when they consume in excess of 12g of lactose. Therefore, a glass of milk (of any of the 3 sources above) is often within the limits of what their body can handle.

Which cheeses are actually lactose free?

Without a doubt, the lactose content of cheese varies more based on the maturation period than the milk that it is made from. Let’s have a look at the lactose content in different types of cheese.

Fresh cheese - low to moderate lactose levels

Fresh cheese ricotta on a cheese platter with pancakes
Alba Ricotta - Cheese Atlas

Firstly, a young and fresh Ricotta, whether it is made with cow’s milk or goat’s milk, contains about 2g/100g of lactose. Another example of a fresh cheese that contains relatively high levels of lactose is cream cheese, clocking in at up to 3g/100g.

While those levels are well within the 12g limit, they still represent a risk for lactose intolerant people. This is particularly relevant for cream cheese because we tend to consume larger amounts of it. Moreover, it is often present in cakes (e.g., cheesecake) and other sweet desserts (e.g., tiramisu).

Soft white mould cheese - low lactose levels

Camembert vs Brie soft cheeses on a wooden board
Camembert vs Brie - Better Homes & Gardens

Soft white mould cheeses such as Brie and Camembert are some of the most popular cheeses around the world. As a matter of fact, most soft cheeses that have matured for four weeks contain around 0.1g/100g of lactose. As a result, they tend to be well tolerated by people who are lactose intolerant.

It’s important to note here that the milk used to make the cheese has no bearing on the final lactose content. Hence, a Brie-style cheese made with cow milk, goat milk or even buffalo milk will end up with a very similar lactose content.

Unlike the fresh cheeses mentioned above, we can more easily control the amount of soft cheeses we consume. Therefore, lactose intolerant cheese lovers can digest cheeses like Brie and Camembert with relative ease, as long as they limit their intake.

Blue cheese - very low lactose levels

Half a wheel of French raw milk cheese Roquefort
Roquefort - Delicious - Source

Next, let’s have a look at my personal favourite type of cheese, blue cheese. Some very popular examples of this category include France’s Roquefort, Britain’s Stilton and Italy’s Gorgonzola.

The three examples are traditionally made with sheep’s milk (Roquefort) and cow’s milk (Stilton & Gorgonzola). However, the lactose levels are very similar for Roquefort and Gorgonzola (at most 2g/100g). As for Stilton, they are even lower at a maximum of 1g/100g.

The reason for the difference is the moisture content in each blue cheese. While most blue cheeses can be eaten with no discomfort by lactose intolerant people, I would recommend Stilton as the safest option. 

Pressed cheese - no detectable lactose levels

Example of What Cheeses Are Lactose Free Vegetarian Brabander Goat Gouda
Cured to Go - Source

Pressed cheeses fall under two categories, pressed cooked and pressed uncooked. Some great examples of the former are Parmigiano Reggiano, Gruyère, Comté, Pecorino and Emmentaler. As for pressed uncooked cheeses, the category includes the likes of Raclette, Cheddar, Gouda and Manchego.

The great news here is that even young versions of all of those cheeses contain barely any lactose. And when you look at matured version ( 18 months and above), they are essentially completely lactose free!

You can read more about Sabine’s favourite lactose free cheeses by clicking here.

How about cheese made with lactose free milk?

One other way that cheesemakers can produce cheese with no lactose in it is by using lactose free milk. I can hear your thoughts here.

“Hold on a second, you said all milk contains lactose!”

While that statement is technically correct, there are two types of milk that are completely lactose free. Let’s have a look at them.

Milk with added lactase

Lactose Free Brie - Coolamon Cheese

By adding the lactase enzyme to their milk, farmers and cheesemakers can break down all of the lactose in the milk before it is even turned into cheese. Consequently, the cheese they make is entirely free of lactose.

Some great examples around the world are Dodoni from Greece and Coolamon Cheese in Australia. 

Plant-based "milk"

Now, this is a highly controversial topic within the cheese industry and I’m not going to dwell too much on it. But one way that you can eat “cheese” that is guaranteed to contain no lactose is to choose a plant-based option. But, at The Cheese Wanker, we don’t really consider those to be cheese.

Lactose content in different cheeses

Use our bar chart and table to compare the lactose content in some of the most popular cheeses. As you can see, most of them are actually very low in lactose. And there is only one type of cheese that exceeds the 12g of lactose barrier: processed “cheese”.

Bar chart

Bar chart showing the lactose content in different cheeses
Lactose content in different types of cheese

Table

CheeseLactose Content in g/100g
Brie0.1-1
Camembert0.1-1
Cheddar (above 18 months)Not detected
Chèvre0.1-0.5
Comté (above 18 months)Not detected
Cream Cheese1-3
Feta0.5
Fresh Ricotta1-5
GoudaNot detected
Gruyère (above 12 months)Not detected
Mozzarella1-3
ParmesanNot detected
Processed Cheese5-10
Roquefort0.1-2
Stilton0.1-1

Conclusion: Can lactose intolerant people eat cheese?

So, what’s the take home message? The majority of lactose intolerant people can actually digest most types of cheese. Whether it is made from cow’s milk, sheep’s milk or goat’s milk (or any other milk for that matter).

However, you will want to avoid processed cheese completely and minimise your consumption of fresh cheeses such as Ricotta and Cream Cheese. If you tend to be more sensitive than most people, then going for a pressed, matured cheese is a very safe bet.

Did I miss your favourite cheese? Drop us a comment below.

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