Wine and cheese are present at many festive gatherings throughout the year, but, sales of luxury cheeses soar during the holiday season. Specialty cheeses from around the world start showing up at NYC’s best gourmet specialty stores in mid-November, many in limited supply, and all ready to tempt you to overindulge in their decedent delight.
Silky, oozing delights such as Mont d’Or and Stilton with Port are perfect for any celebration. But what if you’re sensitive to dairy? Do you have to suffer for giving in to temptation, or, are there choices that will leave you feeling fine the next day? Good news! There are a number of specialty cheeses low in lactose that are just as satisfying and wickedly delicious.
Before we get into which cheeses you can choose, let’s talk about lactose. Lactose is, simply, the naturally occurring sugars found in milk. Lactase is an enzyme humans produce in their intestinal villi that allows for the proper digestion of lactose.
People with lactose intolerance do not produce enough lactase in their intestinal villi to assimilate the lactose, and, as the beneficial bacteria in their intestines do their natural job of fermenting food for nutrient absorption, the fermentation of the (unabsorbed) lactose creates a laundry list of nasty problems.
In the cheese-making process, milk is fermented, just like it is in our small intestines. By adding starter cultures or beneficial bacteria to the milk, fermentation occurs and the lactose is converted to lactic acid, a substance that has no ill effect on lactose intolerant and is easily metabolized in the small intestine. Starter cultures are generally used to make aged cheeses, not fresh ones. So most fresh cheeses are the ones to avoid.
Also, these enzymes used in the cheese-making process break down lactose more and more over time, so after the 6 months needed to make an aged cheese, there’s very little lactose left. You may still need to exercise a bit of restraint so make sure to start by sampling a bit at a time. The choices below are worth seeking out! Also visit Murray’s, Whole Foods, American only specialty store Saxelby’s and Stinky Brooklyn for suggestions from NYC’s knowledgeable cheesemongers.
This raw milk beauty is aged between 12 and 18 months, during which time it develops a dense, firm paste and a caramelly flavor. It is also studded with crystalline crunchy bits known as tyrosine, which are clusters of protein that calcify during the aging process.
Aged for 18 months to develop rich savory notes and layers of flavor. This is the utmost in English Cheddar!
This raw cow’s milk wonder is aged deep under the streets in Crown Finish Caves in Brooklyn. Sweet buttermilk and fruity undertones highlight this slightly crunchy winner.