Updated: Nov 12, 2020
The worst thing about having an intolerance to cow's milk is missing out on cheese. I love a cheese board, with crackers and figs, olives and chutney! But when you have to avoid cow's milk can you still enjoy cheese? It's a question I get asked a lot. Swapping milk has become more mainstream so I find patients are happy to switch to almond milk, coconut milk, hazelnut milk, oat milk...there are so many options readily available these days. It was certainly the easiest part of switching over for me. What about cheese though? The big concern and I totally get it because it was my first thought as well. Apart from a cheese board what about big juicy tomatoes sliced, with creamy mozzarella and avocado. It's one of my favourite things, how would I give that up. Good news you may not have to!
The fact is I'm not alone in avoiding cow's milk, in fact with many autoimmune diseases I find people can't tolerate cow's milk. I talk about this in much more detail in my eBook on nutrition for MS (which you can find here). I don't like to cut food groups out of diets, unless absolutely necessary and you should always do this with the help of a professional to work out exactly what it is you are struggling with.
So if you do need to avoid cow's milk, which cheese should you buy...
Many people who are lactose intolerant may still be able to tolerate goat's, sheep or buffalo dairy. Some research suggests that these may be more gentle on the stomach, however more studies are required. It may be a case of trial and error to find the ones that suit you best. Here's a list of my favourite options.
Goats cheese - The obvious choice, goats cheese is great on salads, with figs, peaches, spinach, in frittata or in a tart, the options are endless. And it comes from you guessed it goats instead of cows. It can range from soft to hard cheese making the possibilities with it even greater.
Feta - An aged salty flavoured cheese, proper feta can be made from sheep, goat or a mixture of the two. Check the packet if buying from a supermarket to make sure you are buying a true feta cheese and it's not cow's milk. Feta is a crumbly cheese great over salads, or asparagus, it is also a great option with tomatoes and olives.
Halloumi - Another mix of sheep and goat's milk is halloumi, for me this is delicious grilled with avocado on sourdough, or in salads, perfect with a cooked breakfast think eggs, tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms and halloumi.
Manchego - Possibly my favourite, but then I grew up partially on the island of Mallorca where manchego is frequently used. It is made traditionally in the La Mancha region of Spain along the Iberian coast from sheep's milk and ranges from hard to semi soft. A true manchego will have a zig zag pattern on the rinds and will have the D.O mark (designation of origin). It can have a wonderfully nutty taste and in my opinion is perfect with anything!
Pecorino - Do you miss that cheese on top of your pasta, no problem reach for a pecorino. Great with any Italian cooking use it instead of parmesan as pecorino is made from Ewe's milk.
Roquefort - Are you a blue cheese lover? Then this is the cheese for you. A French blue cheese from sheep. A great sharp flavour, mix it with nuts, olives, figs and a lovely bit of crusty French bread.
And finally to sort out my favourite meal...
Buffalo Mozzarella - Yes mozzarella is back on the table...albeit it must be buffalo mozzarella, which is in fact the best type anyway. This mozzarella is, you guessed it, made from buffalo milk. So your sliced tomatoes, avocado and buffalo mozzarella is good to go. Just make sure you check the packet and that it truly is buffalo mozzarella, some may be labelled buffalo mozzarella but in fact be made from cow's milk. True mozzarella di buffalo will be made in Italy in a specific region (Caserta and Salerno) where the water buffalo just seem to make the best cheese.
So there you go, YES, you can eat cheese while avoiding cow's milk. In fact you can eat some very tasty cheeses. Enjoy!