Cheese FAQs, Ep. 3: When to Eat the Rind

There’s actually a very simple test that answers this question without fail: try a little bite of the rind in question. If you like it, keep eating it. If you don’t, don’t.

Nooooo, Mark! I’m at a party and there’s cheese and I don’t wanna look stupid biting into rinds I’m not supposed to eat and avoiding rinds I should be eating! SEND HELP NOW!

Ok, ok, ok, I hear you. I stand behind my original answer, but let’s address which rinds are typically intended to be eaten and which are not.

There are many kinds of cheese rinds, and they serve a variety of purposes. They come in so many textures and colors that it can be hard to sort out what’s what. Let’s start with one that’s easy to identify and offers a very easy answer to the question of whether it should be eaten or not.


(Short answer: they’re pretty, but not tasty—don’t eat the wax.)

Waxed rinds are easy to spot because the rinds don’t look like cheese. They look like wax. They feel like wax. They might be a single, bold color—often red or black. Think of those little red Babybel cheeses or a big hunky wedge of red wax gouda or a Manchego with a dark tan or gray wax rind. Some cheddars are aged in wax as well. Some will have artwork printed on them—think of the iconic Midnight Moon, a goat gouda from Cypress Grove. Some have a thin layer of paper glued on to the wax (or even between two layers of wax), typically for artistic adornment and to display information about the cheese. One of my favorites, Ewephoria, has such a rind.

This wheel of Beemster XO Gouda features a lovely waxed rind.

Waxed rinds are added to protect the cheese both while it ages and as it is transported and displayed for sale. They’re essentially a more old-fashioned way of vac-sealing a cheese, maintaining moisture and blocking out contaminants. The wax imparts no flavor to the cheese. It adds only color and a protective seal, so its value is utilitarian and aesthetic, but not culinary.

Obviously, you don’t want to eat wax. It’s not meant to be eaten. But these rinds are made with food-grade wax, so it’s not like eating some would hurt you—it just wouldn’t taste great. You might find that the cheese tastes different closer to the rind than in the center of the wheel (where more moisture remains), and you’re welcome to develop a preference for one part or the other.

Tangential story time: I once saw a customer pick out a cheese nub (these are just little single-serving cuts of cheese that I sell for under 3 bucks each for the sake of folks who just want a bite or two of some different cheeses) and slam the whole thing in her mouth, rind and all, right in front of me. It was a waxed rind gouda with a fair portion of rind on one end. My eyebrows glued themselves to my hairline in astonishment, but she didn’t seem to care about the wax she was chewing so gleefully. Hey, to each their own.


(Short answer: eat it, unless you don’t like it.)

These “mold-ripened” cheeses have a puffy, white rind made of mold—typically penicillium camemberti or penicillium candidum. Less often, you’ll see a wrinkly-looking bloomy rind made of geotrichum candidum. These molds are all actively and intentionally developed on the cheese. Sometimes powdered vegetable ash is added to control ripening and neutralize the surface, creating a grayish layer just under the rind. Some will have a more yellowish hue, but usually these rinds are bright white. You’ll find bloomy rinds on soft-ripened classics like Camembert, all varieties of Brie, Bucheron, and a long list of cheeses made in those styles (like Humboldt Fog or Green Hill). The white rinds serve at least three purposes: 1) they look lovely, 2) they help the cheese age and ripen properly, and 3) they taste delicious. We call these rinds bloomy because if you look at them under a microscope, you’ll see a field of what looks like lovely white flowers! Or something like that. Left to their own devices, these molds puff up like cotton candy, but cheesemakers pat them down over and over as they grow to develop a firmer, flatter rind. Under that rind, you’ll find the creamline, where the cheese is ripest and gooiest, and under that layer, in the middle of the wheel, is a more firm, caky layer.

Green Hill: a soft-ripened cow’s milk cheese with a bloomy rind from southern Georgia, USA.

Should you eat these rinds? Yes! Or, at least, they are meant to be eaten. I find them absolutely delicious—mushroomy and earthy, balancing the bright, buttery flavors of the paste. If you like the paste (that is, the cheese underneath the rind) but not the rind, I think you should eat the parts you like and skip the rind. Fair enough. BUT! If you’re enjoying the cheese with other guests, don’t just scoop out the paste onto your plate like a goddang cheese pirate. No, cut your wedge and then eat around the rind or remove it on your own plate so you don’t leave a deflated, rindy mess for the next guest. I suppose avoiding the rind is like cutting off the crust on your pbj sandwich—one kind of hopes you’ll grow out of it but, ultimately, there’s no shame in doing your thing your way and enjoying what you like.

Sofia: another American bloomy rind cheese, this one made with goat’s milk. The dark lines are vegetable ash. Check out the gooey creamline! Yum!


(Short answer: there is no short answer.)

This one’s a broad category, also sometimes called bacteria-ripened (as opposed to the mold-ripened bloomies discussed above) or smear-ripened. A washed rind is one that has been carefully developed and manicured by the cheesemaker every day of its aging process using a brine solution. A wide variety of ingredients are added to that solution—beer or other alcoholic beverages are common, and bacterial cultures like brevibacterium linens are typical, not to mention the host of other microorganisms in the environment that compete for territory there. The result is typically a cheese with a meaty flavor and pungent rind (aka, stinky cheese). Each unique wash imparts equally unique flavors to the cheese. These rinds take on a burnt orange hue, sometimes more pink, sometimes more gray or tan, sometimes dappled with multiple colors.

French Raclette Livradois, a classic French washed rind melter

I suppose it’s fair to divide washed rinds into two sub-categories:

1) young, gooey, sticky, soft-ripened stinkers in a smallish format (e.g., Taleggio, Epoisses, Limburger, and Alsatian Muenster—“monastic” cheeses, as they’re sometimes called), and

2) firmer, well-aged Alpine cheeses in a larger format (e.g., Raclette, Comte, Gruyere, and Appenzeller).


Challerhocker is a washed rind Alpine cheese much like an Appenzeller or small-format version of Gruyere: the rind smells funky, but the paste is all toasty, nutty, onion grassy, savory perfection.

Some are room-clearingly stinky, while others are quite mild. Often, the pungence of the rind is not reflected in the taste of the cheese underneath it—such that if you smelled the rind first, you’d be afraid to eat it, but you’d be missing out!

Ok, Mark, fine fine fine, blah blah blah, but do you eat the rind?

The rind of the younger, gooey cheeses is typically meant to be eaten. With the firmer Alpine cheeses, the rind isn’t necessarily meant to be eaten, but it can be. In both cases, try it and discover your preferences. Typically, a thin, delicate rind is meant to be eaten, but a hard, thick rind is not. Me? I sometimes enjoy the rind of the younger cheeses if they’re not too gritty, but I almost never eat the rind on the Alpines. They’re flavorful, but the texture is too tough to be enjoyed, in my opinion. That said, I LOVE the bites closest to the rind, as they’re often the most rich in flavor.


(Short answer: usually yes, but you’ll have to try it to know.)

Natural rinds, also known as wild rinds, are carefully tended to by cheesemakers, but the cultures present on the rind are not actively added. The cheesemaker’s role is more passive, allowing ambient cultures to grow on the cheese (remember, after all—you are at this moment covered in and inhaling microorganisms—it’s really ok). Molds, yeasts, and bacteria all compete with each other for space on the surface, ultimately giving a true sense of terroir to the cheese, since no one but mother nature can fully determine the results, which will vary from one aging cellar to another. The cheesemaker might turn, flip, and brush the cheese regularly while tending to the aging room’s temperature and humidity, but no cultures are added during the aging process. One common example is a cloth-bound cheddar. These are bandaged in cloth and slathered in lard before aging for months or even years. The result is often very colorful and flavorful. Sometimes blue molds sneak into crevices to the chagrin of the cheesemaker, but these are naturally-occurring, tasty, and harmless. Many blue cheeses have a natural rind, as do most farmhouse-style tommes.

The rind of Flory’s Truckle, a clothbound cheddar, after removing the cloth.

But do you eat it? Well, I always try it. Sometimes it’s too tough or gritty or leathery. With other cheeses, it’s so delicious that I don’t want a bite without a little rind in it. When I eat Flory’s Truckle, for example, I adore the bites closest to the rind, but I typically cut off just a few millimeters of rind to avoid that grainy texture. On the other hand, I recently opened a new wheel of Sleeping Beauty from Cascadia Creamery and am in love with the rind, which gives a perfect balance of barnyardy flavor and crunch to the more delicate, buttermilky paste. With blues, I almost always love a bit of the natural rind in my bite—Blue Stilton, Glacier Blue, Caveman Blue, and Bayley Hazen all offer delicious mottled gray rinds with just the right amount of texture. Missing out on the rind, in those cases, means missing out on the full flavor of the cheese.


This list isn’t exhaustive. There are other types of rinds. For example, the rind of Parmigiano Reggiano is often called a dry rind, which is a bit of a misnomer considering that it’s created with oils and brines. But it’s easy to know that you shouldn’t eat a Parm rind because, well, you can’t. Not without breaking your teeth.

On the other hand, there are FLAVORED RINDS that are very clearly meant to be eaten. Think of those delicious BellaVitano cheeses from Sartori that are bathed in rosemary or black pepper or merlot. Or think of the popular Drunken Goat cheese from Spain, a crowd-pleaser bathed in wine.

Many of us, at least in the U.S., grew up eating almost exclusively RINDLESS CHEESES. Those don’t really belong in this post, for obvious reasons. I will say this about rindless cheeses: sometimes they do have a sort of pseudo-rind, and that pseudo-rind raises questions. For example, a vac-sealed loaf of aged cheddar will look a little different, a little more crystallized, on the outside edges. Customers have asked me if those ends are okay to eat. Is it moldy? It’s not moldy, but you’ll see more calcium crystallization on the outside edges of a cheddar aged in plastic vac-seal. The crystals are not only ok, but desirable (because crunchy cheddar is RAD). Likewise, rindless smoked cheeses are obviously darker and firmer at the outside edges. In those cases, smoking has created color and dryness around the exterior of the cheese—no worries. If you get a cut from the end of the loaf, it might have a little more smoke flavor, but that’ll be the only difference from any other cut.

A rindless loaf of Prairie Breeze cheddar from Milton Creamery.

Drop me a line if you have questions I haven’t answered here! Just remember: if you’re not sure, TRY IT! I’m unaware of any cheese rinds that are actually dangerous to eat (other than the risk of cracking your teeth on an especially hard rind, but I’m sure you’ll figure that one out before needing an emergency appointment at the dentist). Happy cheesing!

Mark’s Heretically Modern American Guide to Pronouncing Cheese Words

One of the many reasons some customers feel a bit intimidated at the cheese counter is that they see so many words they don’t recognize and can’t pronounce with any confidence. We see not only among European/world cheeses, but also among American cheeses, words rooted in multiple languages, such that hazarding a guess as to their pronunciation feels like offering oneself up for ridicule. I’ll bet real money that some customers decide—consciously or otherwise–not to even try a particular cheese at my counter because they fear pronouncing it wrong and being laughed at. I want to say this loud and clear: anyone implying that he or she is more sophisticated than someone else because they know (or think they know) how to pronounce a foreign word is full of bologna. They probably pronounce bologna in a pretentious way, too.

My experience suggests that people fall into just a few categories when faced with this dilemma. Some say, “screw it, I guess I’ll just ask for cheddar.” Some show off their French or Italian or Spanish or Dutch or German skills and ask to try a cheese using a pronunciation that may (or may not?) be perfect in the language of origin (which sometimes results in a confused look on my own face, not being well-versed in any of those languages myself). More aggressive types barge ahead confidently with ridiculous pronunciations, usually accompanied by an accent they invented and a story about a Spanish hostel they lived in for a week in 1972: “I’d like to try the MoonchuGAA, please! I’ll bet it’s crap compared to the real thing I had in Madrid!” If I can figure out what they’re trying to say, I’ll grab it without daring to challenge their “expertise.” More modest types tend to say something like, “ooh, this one looks interesting, but… how do you say that… man-che-go?”

I’d like to make a few (hopefully helpful) remarks about this topic from the perspective of someone who faces this dilemma himself and watches others try to navigate it five days a week. Then, I’d like to offer some safe bets for pronouncing common cheese words in an American context. (For the record, I can’t use International Phonetic Alphabet symbols here, nor would I if I could, so I’m just trying to spell pronunciations in a way that I hope best reflects the sounds for English speakers. The result is imprecise, but that’s perhaps for the best. My post in general suggests that imprecision is normal and acceptable.)

  1. There’s no reason to be bashful in front of your cheesemonger. For one thing, you make more money than we do and have made better life choices. Congrats! If we were fluent in seven languages, we’d likely not be working a cheese counter. (Then again, a PhD in English didn’t keep me away from cheesemongering, so hey, maybe we just like it, and that shouldn’t be very intimidating either.) Cheese words show up from many languages and no one expects you to know them all. Cheesemongers mispronounce stuff all the time. I’ve done it more often than I’d care to admit. It’s fine. I’ve never once—not one time—made fun of a customer for not knowing how to pronounce a word. I HAVE, I’ll admit, chuckled heartily behind the backs of customers who came up with bizarre, inexplicable pronunciations I could never have dreamed of, pronunciations seemingly unrelated to the letters in the word and wholly distinct from any pronunciation any other human has uttered, and then seemed miffed that I was too dumb to recognize their unique creation. I mean, c’mon. That’s hilarious. My chuckling is at the expense of their arrogance rather than their ignorance. But here’s a truly shameful confession: one time I was sharing a laugh with a coworker after a customer had said MORE THAN ONCE, “PARE-uh-KEEN-yo” in an effort, as I finally deduced, to pronounce Pecorino. Same thing happened when a customer insisted on “pare-uh-MEES-ee-un” cheese. I felt pretty bad about it later when I considered that perhaps the customer might be dyslexic. Oof. Sorry, universe. I’m awful. So, I guess what I should have said is there’s no reason to be bashful in front of your cheesemonger unless he or she is a jerk like I was that one time. Ok, two times. But, truly, it’s 100% ok to not know how to pronounce a cheese word. I’m pretty terrible with the French cheese words myself.


  1. Often, it’s not a matter of there being a universally standard, correct and incorrect pronunciation. It’s just about communicating what you want. For a given foreign cheese word, there are likely multiple pronunciations, each of which is correct or close enough in a given context. For example: mozzarella. Americans pronounce it one way (usually MAHT-suh-RELL-uh). Italians pronounce it another way (something like MOATZ-zah-RELL-luh). Italian-Americans of the American northeast tend to drop the final vowels of Italian words (moat-zah-RELL). Those all work perfectly fine, don’t they? If I were in Italy, trying my best to order in Italian, I’d give the Italian pronunciation my best effort, but here in the US of A, I say MAHT-suh-RELL-uh or just MAHZ. Am I embarrassed that I don’t pronounce it in the most Italian way possible? Not even a little bit. I’d argue that the American pronunciation is, well, the American pronunciation—perfectly correct in the US. If you pronounce it the Italian way, that’s cool (even if a bit silly for non-Italians), but it’s not going to earn you a discount. Also, for some perspective, keep in mind that even words you think you know how to pronounce in your own language are pronounced differently elsewhere in your own language. Among native English speakers, ten can be pronounced TIN or TEN. Roof can be ROOF or RUF. A word as simple as car is pronounced differently in London than in Boston than in Nashville. So let’s not be too judgy. This stuff is Linguistics 101. It’s all okay.


  1. Some cheese words are funny! It’s ok to giggle! Butterkäse, Muenster, Scharfe Maxx! Challerhocker, Challerhocker, Challerhocker! (I CANNOT say Scharfe Maxx without using a Schwarzenegger voice and tee-hee-ing.)


  1. It’s ALWAYS okay to ask for the pronunciation or just avoid it altogether: “I’d like to try this cheese at the far left with the white rind, the one on the second row, please.” It’s not like it won’t be delicious if you can’t pronounce the name. You could even spell it out if that helps. “How do you say the name of this one at the top that starts with c-h?” Sometimes I’m selling a new cheese and have to admit that I don’t know how to pronounce it either. I’ll look it up eventually, but in the meantime, I’m not all that worried about it. Some of the names are made up, so there is no standard pronunciation. IT’S OKAY.


  1. Remember, we cheesemongers LOVE teaching customers about cheese. I’m every bit as excited about working with a customer who knows very little about cheese as a customer with sophisticated cheese knowledge. Don’t worry about it. It’s not like a car lot where you might get swindled if you haven’t done your research. We’re glad you’re at the counter either way, and we want to help! If you admit that you’ve never tried Manchego and don’t know how to pronounce it, hey, great! That’s an opportunity for me to tell you all about it and introduce you to one of my favorite cheeses of all time! I’ll walk you through it with glee. We’ll have a taste together and then grin stupidly. It’s great.


  1. Using words from one language in another language always requires some compromise. The phonemes are different. The cadences are different. English speakers don’t necessarily know how to make all the necessary sounds of another language. (I can’t roll my Rs and my gutterals are rubbish, for example, because, after all, those sounds aren’t used in the language I speak!). And that’s okay! We just want to understand each other. “Close enough to be understood” is my rule here. Not pretentiously making up dumb stuff is my other rule.


  1. It’s just cheese. You don’t have to know anything. You can just be like, “let me try something mind-blowingly delicious” and we’ll taste cheeses until you fall in love with something.


  1. You’re not the only person who’s stumped. I just did some super-basic Googling to look at other cheese pronunciation guides, and guess what: even the people presenting themselves as experts get this stuff mind-bendingly wrong on a mind-bogglingly regular basis. I mean, I saw a high-production-cost video that not only mispronounced but also friggin’ misspelled Parmigiano Reggiano while presuming to teach me how to say the term. So, my approach is necessarily loose and lenient. I just want us to all feel like we’re not dummies when we talk about cheese and to forgive each other’s differences because, guess what, guy-who-thinks-his two-semesters-of-French-makes-him-an-expert: people pronounce words differently and that’s okay because it’s how language works, always and forever.


Now for the informational portion of this broadcast. It’s either the part you scrolled down to immediately or the part you’ll skip. For your pleasure and (mis)education, here’s a list of some cheese words and their common American pronunciations (with alternatives as necessary):

ASIAGO: AH-see-AH-go. If you say this in a way that makes it sound like you’re about to name all the continents, you might wanna try again.

BLEU: This is the French word for blue. They say something like BLUH. But, you know, this is a word we can just as easily translate to English because WE HAVE AN ENGLISH COGNATE FOR THAT and it’s blue. I don’t know. Take your pick. BLUH or BLOO. They both sound kinda silly when you think about it.

BRIE: BREE. It’s unbrielievably easy.

CAMEMBERT: CAM-um-bear. Don’t say the t. In French, the middle vowel is more open, more like an OH or AH, and the R is barely audible (to my ear, anyway).

CHALLERHOCKER: HALL-ur-hock-ur. Were you Swiss, you’d pronounce the Ch with a guttural sound. (I recently impressed a Swiss customer by using the guttural sounds appropriately, but never told her that I was actually using a phoneme I learned in Hebrew class as my best approximation. Close enough!)

CHÈVRE: Fresh goat’s milk cheese is called SHEV or SHEV-ruh. I’ve heard the French pronunciation, but I can’t say it properly. Sorry, not sorry. I’m a cheesemonger, not an expert in the French language. I call it SHEV, which is perfectly common and acceptable in the US.

COMTÉ: I swear, I don’t know. Might be LAW-rul, might be YAH-nee. No one knows. I’ve heard, like, twelve ways to pronounce this very short word. I DON’T KNOW. I say COM-tee, which is wrong. And I’m not even embarrassed. But if you wanna correct me, please do so. (Just know that someone else will “correct” me in a wholly different direction.) I think it’s actually something along the lines of COHM-tuh with a barely-there final syllable.

CRÈME FRAîCHE: CREM FRESH. Not as tricky as it looks.

FETA: Americans think they’re saying FET-uh, but they’re usually saying FEH-duh. That’s fine, I suppose (I can just barely hear the difference, to be honest), but it does seem to rub Greeks the wrong way. They keep correcting me. Sorry. One very kind Greek customer told me in the gentlest possible way that Greek customers would really appreciate me if I would say it the right way, which is apparently something like FET-TAH.

FROMAGE: froh-MAJ. (The J is more JH—a vocalized SH—I can’t quite spell it in a way that reflects the sound: think of the z in azure.) It’s fro like fro-yo and mage like Taj Mahal. Look, French doesn’t even accent syllables, so that’s an example of the transliteration problem I’m pointing out here. If you don’t speak French, you don’t have to say these words as if you do (you probably can’t anyway). And if you’re bilingual in French and English, use context to determine which language to use. Sure, it might be a little embarrassing to say fruh-MAG-ur, but, you know, let’s just get close-ish so we can understand each other. BTW, fromage just means cheese.

GOUDA: GOO-duh. Every now and then, a customer will correct me. I’m not unaware that the Dutch say HOW-duh (with a guttural H), but a) that guttural H phoneme isn’t part of my speech—I couldn’t do it properly if I wanted to—and b) Americans call it GOO-duh. Likewise, Americans pronounce the French capitol city PARE-iss rather than pah-REE (with some kind of deep-throated R that I can’t do). It’s okay. That’s how language works. It changes with time and place. No worries. Just don’t call it GOW-duh. You’re thinking of an inflammatory disease.

GRUYERE: Americans tend to say groo-YAIR, while Brits say gree-YAIR. I, for reasons unknown even to myself, use the British pronunciation. I think I’m afraid Gordon Ramsay will yell at me if I say it a different way.

HAVARTI: huh-VAR-tee or, if you wanna get real American about it, huh-VAR-dee.

KASE: KAY-zuh. You’ll see this term as part of many German or Swiss cheese names, like Butterkäse or Sennenkase. (Btw, I’ll accept BUT-ur-kay-zuh or BOOT-ur-kay-zuh, the latter being a little closer to the original. Hell, even if you say BUT-ur-case, I’ll know what you mean, and that’s fine.) Käse is just the German word for cheese.

MANCHEGO: man-CHAY-go or mahn-CHAY-go. I often hear Americans say man-CHAIN-go, and I know this goes against my basic principles here, but I have to draw the line at that one. There’s just no reason to add a second n. In Spanish, the second syllable is more CHE than CHAY. I don’t care.

MASCARPONE: mah-skar-POH-neh or mah-skar-POH-nay. But many Americans, including Italian-Americans, say MAR-skuh-pone, and I don’t really understand why, but it’s common enough that I’m fine with it. If it’s good enough for Tony Soprano, it’s good enough for me.

MUENSTER: MUN-stir. The “u” can sound like that in “cut” or in “push.” Close enough either way.

OSSAU-IRATY: Hell if I know. Just kidding. It’s oh-so-EER-ah-tee. Because CLOSE ENOUGH.

PARMIGIANO REGGIANO: PARM. Seriously, that’s fine. I often say PARM REJ to indicate I’m talking about the real Reggiano rather than some other parm-like cheese. The more authentic pronunciation, if you wanna know, is par-mee-JAH-no rej-JAH-no. When Italian words include double-letters, those letters are sort of lengthened across two syllables, included in both the end of one syllable and the beginning of the next. But you don’t need to know that to order cheese.

PECORINO ROMANO: peh-co-REE-no roh-MAH-no. FYI: Pecorino just means sheep cheese. Romano means Roman. So Pecorino Romano is sheep cheese in the Roman (southern Italian) style. Likewise, Pecorino Toscano is sheep cheese from Toscano, or northern Italy (Tuscany, we say in English). And the cheekily-named Pecorino Wiscono is sheep cheese from Wisconsin.

PROVOLONE: Americans say PRO-vuh-lone, and I’d say that’s correct for American-made deli cheese in (very roughly) the style of Provolone. But if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll call real Italian Provolone by its name: pro-voh-LOH-neh.

RICOTTA: Americans say rih-COT-uh. That’s fine. Italians say ree-COAT-tah.

ROQUEFORT: ROKE-fore or ROKE-fort. The former is closer to the French and considered more “correct,” but Americans often pronounce the T and that doesn’t bother me for even a second. If you wanna be real French and put some guttural R stuff in there, go for it.

TALEGGIO: tah-LEJ-jee-oh or, more Americanly, tuh-LEJ-ee-oh. I’m pretty sure I say the latter.

TOMME: TOM (like the name short for Thomas) or TUM. You’ll also hear TOME and tome-AY. Basically, Americans haven’t decided how to handle this one. I say TOM. To me, TUM sounds pretentious, TOME is a long book, and tome-AY is trying way too hard, especially considering that the French word is only one syllable. But it’s a free-for-all. Do as you please.

Did I miss an important one? Lemme know. Most importantly, get thee to the fromagerie and put so much cheese in your mouth that you can’t pronounce any words at all!

CHEESE FAQs, Ep. 1: How to Eat Cheese When You’re Lactose Intolerant

My plan to use this blog to answer common cheese questions and address the concerns of average cheese consumers has, uh, faced some competition from posts in the category of “omg lookie this cheese I cheesed today!!!” To that I say, it’s my party and I’ll cut the cheese if I want to.

But seriously, I still want to do the thing I wanted to do before. And I don’t have to be at the shop tomorrow, so I can stay up late drinking Dickel 12 in bed and typing. This post covers a concern I hear nearly daily: “I love cheese, but I’m lactose intolerant!” And the related question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I’ll offer a few words of advice*.

  1. Go for cheeses that contain little or no lactose. They’re not as hard to find as you might think. For one thing, most cheeses are made by separating the whey from the curds; when the whey is rinsed off, much of the milk’s lactose is removed along with it. Secondly, as cheeses age, lactose is broken down into lactic acid. Thus, fresh cheeses (cheeses that aren’t aged—e.g., mozzarella, ricotta, feta, and chevre) still contain quite a bit of lactose, but aged cheeses have very little lactose. And the more aged the cheese is, the less lactose remains, generally speaking. So, most naturally aged cheeses—even if they’re not aged for very long—contain little or no lactose. Cheeses that are aged for long periods are very safe bets. For example, Beemster XO gouda is aged for 26 months and contains no lactose at all. Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Manchego, Jarlsberg, and aged cheddars are typically lactose-free or contain only trace levels of lactose.
  2. Look for a “lactose free” label. If you don’t find one, look at the nutrition information label. Lactose is milk sugar, so a cheese that’s high in sugar is high in lactose, while a cheese with little or no sugar is very low in lactose. The nutrition info label doesn’t list lactose, but it does list sugar, which in the case of cheese is basically the same thing.
  3. Consider your portion size. Most adults are at least mildly lactose intolerant. I certainly am! Some of us are more intolerant of lactose than others, but in any case, lactose intolerance is not an allergy—a little lactose isn’t going to send you to the ER or even to the bathroom in a hurry**. If you have Chron’s disease, it’s wise to avoid even trace amounts of gluten, but lactose intolerance doesn’t work like that. It’s more a matter of degree. You may find that you tolerate a little bit of lactose with no problem at all, a moderate amount with a bit of mild indigestion, and a lot with, well, let’s call it distress. Good cheese packs a wallop of flavor, so you may find that you can thoroughly enjoy a little bit of even a fresh cheese (relatively high lactose) without any trouble whatsoever. And frankly, a little bit is plenty anyway. And with low-lactose or lactose-free cheeses, you can pig out if you want.
  4. Know your condition. Are you sure that lactose is the problem? Or are you perhaps allergic to milk protein (casein)? If there’s an allergy to milk protein involved, then it doesn’t matter whether the cheese is low in lactose or not—it’s gonna mess you up***.
  5. If you’re eating a dish that contains cheese, you should know not only what kind of cheese is in it, but what other dairy products are included. If that big bowl of mac and cheese you want is made with aged cheddar, the cheese is probably fine for you as far as lactose goes—but your digestive system is still headed for chaos if it’s also full of cream or milk, or if you’re gobbling amounts of it appropriate only for a hot dog eating competition. If your lactose intolerance isn’t severe, you shouldn’t be worried about a bite of even a young cheese like brie****. But eating a large portion is obviously more risky.
  6. Stay away from the processed stuff. They’re not only unaged (high lactose), but they typically include added milk and/or whey (also high lactose).
  7. Consider non-dairy “cheeses,” I guess? If you must? A vegan friend tells me some of them are delicious. I’ve tried quite a few and ended up with McKayla Maroney-level chagrin on my face, but I might just have a bad attitude. The cashew- and almond-based cheeses aren’t the worst thing ever. Whatever you do, stay away from “imitation cheese” made with, I dunno, chalk and recycled chapstick or whatever they use. I’m not sure what loopholes they abuse to sell this as a food product, since it’s clearly more useful as a cheap construction material.
  8. Don’t get confused by all the bogus nutritional advice. I hear the results of misinformation every day. “I can only eat goat cheese because it doesn’t have lactose.” (Nope. Goat’s milk has slightly lower lactose than cow’s milk, but it’s more likely the difference in casein between cow and goat milk that’s making a difference in your digestion.) “I can only eat raw milk cheese because it doesn’t have lactose.” (Not exactly. If you’re eating raw milk cheese in the US, it’s going to be an aged cheese as required by law, so yeah, that helps. But raw milk has exactly the same amount of lactose as pasteurized milk, though there’s a decent argument that it’s easier to digest because it contains more lactase enzymes and probiotics.) “I only eat cheese from grass-fed cows because it has no lactose.” (No, I’m pretty sure calves would die of malnutrition if that were the case. But hey, grass-fed, pasture-raised animals make tastier, more nutritious cheese, so sure, let’s go with that.) I’m not a medical doctor or a dietitian, so it’s not my place to give medical advice. I try to help people find whatever it is they’re looking for, but I’m sometimes frustrated to hear these myths over and over again.
  9. Just, yeah, eat what you want and suffer the consequences*****. That’s what most of us do, isn’t it?

* I’m not a medical doctor. I mean, I’m a doctor, yeah, but not of the medical sort. I’m qualified to diagnose problems with prose, not problems with your guts, which I call “guts” because I’m not a medical doctor.

** I’m still not a medical doctor. I sell cheese. I’m biased. Go talk to your doctor, for chrissake.

*** You can tell I’m not a medical doctor because I just wrote “gonna mess you up.” Don’t take medical advice from me.

**** Not a medical doctor. Not a dietitian. Just a guy who thinks brie is delicious. I likely know more about cheese than your doc does, and your doc definitely knows more about health than I do, so perhaps you can learn something from both of us?

**** I don’t have malpractice insurance. Don’t listen to me!