The Since Your Asked column in the Medford, OR, MailTribune got a softball question and hit, well, a weak single.
I was recently diagnosed as lactose-intolerant. It's very easy to find lactose-free milk, but is there such a thing as lactose-free cheese or any other food items? If so, are there any local stores that sell them?
The first part of the answer is completely correct, which is I give them credit for a hit.
The good news about a lactose-free diet is that it can still include cheese, but the type of cheese makes all the difference.
"The fresher a cheese, the more lactose will be present," says Gianaclis Caldwell, co-owner and cheesemaker of Pholia Farm near Rogue River. "Hard, aged cheese — it's virtually gone."
The reason is a chemical reaction that occurs in cheesemaking or other types of fermentation. Lactose is a sugar found in all milk. Bacteria, often added as a culture, eats sugar. The longer dairy products are aged, the more sugar is converted into lactic acid. All-natural yogurt is another fermented food that may be digestible for some people with lactose intolerance.
A general rule of thumb is the harder the cheese, the longer it's been aged. Think Parmesan, Swiss and sharp cheddar. To be sure, stick with the highest-quality cheeses, more likely produced with natural methods, rather than additives to alter texture.
The problem with the column as a whole is twofold.
First, as I keep telling people and my NIH LI Conference series should make abundantly clear, you don't need to go onto a lactose-free diet even if you have LI.
Second, the column claims that their shoppers couldn't find any true cheeses marked "lactose-free" in local stores. I can't dispute that, but such cheese definitely exist. My Steve Carper's Lactose Intolerance Clearinghouse website has a page of Reduced Lactose Milk Products that include the names and contact information several brands of true cow's milk lactose-free cheeses.