The SOMM Journal

February / March 2017

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44 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } FEBRUARY/MARCH 2017 "WISH I COULD EAT CHEESE BUT I'M lactose-intolerant." As a cheese blogger and teacher, I hear that one all the time. If you work in the restaurant world, you probably do too. Wine and cheese can be awesome together, but not if the cheese is causing gastric distress. To help you respond to customers who believe they can't tolerate cheese, let's separate some myths from the facts. What is lactose anyway? It's milk sugar, the main carbohydrate in milk. Cow's, goat's and sheep's milk contain roughly the same amount, about 12 grams per cup. Lactose feeds the bacterial culture that turns milk into cheese. The bacteria con - vert lactose to lactic acid, preparing the milk to separate into curds and whey. If the bacteria consume the lactose, how can cheese have any? That's the right question. When a cheesemaker drains off the whey, 98 percent of the unfermented lactose departs with it. Fresh curds (like cot - tage cheese) can still have a small amount of residual lactose, but bac- teria in the cheese soon ferment it. "Within a week, it's essentially gone," says Jeff Broadbent, Professor of Dairy Microbiology at Utah State University. "Certainly within two weeks." A super-salty cheese like feta can have measurable lactose, but any other cheese aged more than a couple of weeks will not. Even so, you would have to eat a gargantuan portion of feta—about ten ounces—to consume the amount of lactose in a glass of milk. Why does anybody have a problem with lactose? Most people naturally produce lactase, an enzyme that breaks lactose down and makes it digestible. Without lactase, infants couldn't tolerate breast milk. But some people lose the ability to make sufficient lactase as they age—especially those of African, Asian, Hispanic or Native American descent. Many sufferers can have a cappuccino or bowl of ice cream without discomfort; others are more sen - sitive. Only about 15 percent of Caucasian adults are lactose-intolerant; there's a test for it, but many people self-diagnose. Is it the same as a milk allergy? Totally different. Allergies are reactions to proteins and can be life threatening. Lactose intolerance may be unpleasant, but it won't kill you. So what to say to guests who think they shouldn't have cheese? Tread lightly. Nobody likes to have their health con - cerns dismissed. But you can share what you know about the absence of lactose in aged cheese and encourage patrons to confirm those facts them- selves. Maybe the next time they dine with you they'll take your suggestion to accompany that Cabernet Sauvignon with a fine farmstead Cheddar. { wheying in } Savory Reading Janet Fletcher is a contributor to the newly published Oxford Companion to Cheese (Oxford University Press, $65), a weighty, authorita- tive and encyclopedic look at the world of cheese, including entries on cheese history, cheese chemistry, cheese shops, cheese tools and equip- ment, cheese culture and personalities—and, of course, the cheeses themselves. Complex and rewarding, it's an ideal match for Jancis Robinson's classic Oxford Companion to Wine. —David Gadd Janet Fletcher is the author of Cheese & Wine, Cheese & Beer and The Cheese Course. She publishes Planet Cheese, a weekly blog, and teaches cheese-appreciation classes around the country. ( In this new column, multiple James Beard Award–winning food journalist Janet Fletcher offers nibbles of wisdom from the world of cheese. Milk Sugar: Myth vs. Fact A CHEESE-LOVER'S PRIMER ON LACTOSE AND LACTOSE-INTOLERANCE by Janet Fletcher PHOTO: NEVODKA VIA THINKSTOCK Because of the fermentation that turns milk into cheese, aged wheels have no measureable lactose. Even fresh cheeses contain much less lactose than a glass of milk does.

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