A cheese for every disease
Your disease: Lactose Intolerance
I hear it all the time: people who, deep down, know they have issues with milk and dairy, but are in denial because they don’t want to have to give up ice cream or cheese. So they suffer the flatulent consequences and loosen the belt buckle a few notches to accomodate the bloating. Might I suggest an option B? If you’ve got lactose intolerance issues and are loathe to give up cheese, you may not have to. Here are a few things you can keep in mind:
- If the cheese is packaged, look for the carbohydrate grams listed on the nutrition label: if the label says it contains zero carbohydrate, that means each serving of that cheese has less than 0.5g of lactose. (Lactose, which is milk sugar, is the only carbohydrate in natural cheese.) Look for cheeses with 0g of carbohydrate per serving, and test the waters with one serving, which is 1oz, or the size equivalent of 4 dice or one piece of string cheese. Cheddars are a good place to start: I’m partial to the Organic Valley sharp cheddars, myself. (They make both pasteurized and raw milk cheeses, so steer clear of the raw ones if you’re pregnant).
- If a cheese is not packaged, remember that the harder the cheese, the less lactose it will have. This is for two reasons: (1) because the liquid (whey) that drains out of the cheese as it ages and hardens contains virtually all of the lactose, and (2) longer periods of fermentation mean that more of the sugars (lactose) have been broken down by the bacteria for energy. Therefore, a more mature, harder cheese (like Parmesan, Gruyere, Comte, and sharper Cheddars) will have much less lactose than a softer, younger one (like brie, gouda, and even some milder cheddars–particularly commercially-produced ones). As for ricotta cheese, it’s made from the whey–so it will have among the highest lactose content out there. Proceed with caution. Once again, when testing your tolerance for a new cheese, keep your portions small at first. Once you establish that it sits well, you can push the limits a bit more the next time to see when your intestines cry uncle.
- Goat’s milk has just about the same amount of lactose as cow’s milk, so be wary of the myth that goat’s milk cheese will be easier to tolerate than cow’s milk cheese. Still, some people claim that because the fat droplets in goat’s milk are smaller than those in cow’s milk, this cheese will somehow be easier for lactose intolerants to digest. While I fail to appreciate the physiological connection, I cannot speak for anyone’s intestines but my own. So I will simply say that if you fancy a trip into goat milk cheese territory, take it as slow as you would with a cow’s milk cheese. You may also have better luck with the harder, more aged goat’s milk cheeses (like a Spanish Drunken Goat cheese, perchance?) over the soft, spreadable logs of chevre. Ditto for sheep’s milk cheeses.
Your disease: Milk allergy
Of course, if you can’t eat dairy at all due to milk protein (casein) allergies or because you’re vegan (not that veganism is a disease, mind you), then you’ve likely suffered from an additional affliction beyond your cheeseless existence: namely, the marketing assault of
soy and rice “cheeses” that purport to be acceptable stand-ins.
To the marketers of rice based “Vegan Slices” or soy-cheeses (you know who you are) I say this: we figured out how to put a man on the moon, and THIS is the best you can come up with for my allergic and vegan friends?!? (I’ll give some of the rice cheeses, like Vegan Rella, a pass with only a slap on the wrist, because they are a low-protein cheese substitute that may be appropriate for people with PKU, a rare metabolic disease that requires an extremely low protein diet. But the soy cheesemakers? Shame on you.)
If you’ve seen these products in the supermarket, you may have noticed that they are modeled after processed imitation cheese slices rather than natural hard cheeses. Which is to say: the bar for what passes as an acceptable product is its square shape and its ability to melt evenly. But as for flavor and texture? These companies appear to be banking on the fact that you haven’t tasted real cheese in long enough that you’ll have forgotten what it’s supposed to be like. Without undergoing the fermentation process, these uncultered cheeses lack the telltale tanginess of a real milk cheese.
But despair not, my casein-free friends. There are bold new frontiers in Vegan cheesemaking being traversed in Brooklyn under the fearless leadership of two raw foodists who call their company Dr. Cow.
Dr. Cow’s cheesemakers are turning out cultured, tree-nut ‘cheeses’ using the same techniques used to make natural milk-based cheeses. Since it’s the culturing that contributes so much of the flavor and texture to natural cheese, Dr. Cow’s variety of cheeses are an attempt to create a vegan cheese with an appearance, texture and flavor that make them respectable–and possibly delicious– substitutes for dairy cheeses. I visited the company’s website and was compelled enough by the flattering photos of their incredibly cheeselike products to run out and drop $6.99 for a teensy 2.5oz puck of the Aged Cashew and $8.99 for the Aged Cashew & Brazil Nut variety. Like fine aged cheeses, each came wrapped adorably in wax paper. My expectations were high. Now I’ll admit that when I opened up the first one, it was more of a putty color than the online photos suggested; and when we sliced into it, my husband remarked that it looked like a cross between a plastic explosive and Halvah. But when we placed some on a cracker and tasted it, it felt and tasted like a real, bona-fide natural cheese. Tang? Check. Salt? Check. Creaminess? Check. We each had several pieces of both varieties–very much on our own volition–and declared them to be worthy of the next vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, locavore wine-and-cheese party we throw.
I like that the Dr. Cow tree nut cheeses have delightfully short and recognizable ingredient lists: nuts/seeds, acidophilus (the bacteria) and (Himalayan pink) salt. A few varieties use seaweed, too. True, these cheeses won’t deliver the calcium that real cheese–or even fortified soy/rice cheese–will, but the nut base renders them an excellent source of protein. And they’d look way cute on a cheeseboard paired with a variety of gluten free crackers, like Mary’s or, in keeping with the theme, Blue Diamond Nut Thins.
Now as for your friends with nut allergies, might I suggest a nice hummus instead?Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.