Monday, April 13, 2009

Soy "Cheese"

A few days ago a reader asked me a question about soy cheese. She said that she is lactose intolerant and was wondering if I knew of any good soy cheeses. I was going to respond in the comments, but answering her question is turning out to be a bit more involved than I'd initially thought.

Most soy cheez I've tried is awful. This is (IMHO) because they are imitating cheese food, processed cheese product, and not cheese. When I have seen rice milk cheez or soy cheez they are often packaged like processed cheese food slices, or the shredded awful bagged, flavorless cheese stuffs hanging next to the canned croissants. This stuff isn't good when it's made with milk, and making it soy doesn't enhance the flavorless plasticy profile.

I, dear readers are what you might call a cheese snob. How could I not be? I get the chance to work with really great cheeses almost every day. Many of the cheesemakers are people who put their heart and soul into their animals, the milk, the land, and of course the cheese. I have never encountered artisan soy cheese, but if anyone out there has, please let me know. I'd like to try it. As for now however, I cannot in good conscience give you any soy suggestions.

Thank you Ursula for bringing up lactose intolerance though. What does it mean to be lactose intolerant? Lactose is a milk sugar. To digest lactose, our bodies have the enzyme lactase. Being lactose intolerant means you don't have this enzyme and have difficulty digesting products with lactose in them. Usually, if you consume small amounts of lactose every so often you should have minimal problems.

Luckily, there are options for lactose intolerant people.

  • Don't eat cheese Okay, let's be serious here. I'm a cheese lover, sniffer, taster, eater, and adventurer. There is no way I was going to tell you to not eat cheese.
  • Younger and fresher cheeses have more lactose than your aged varieties. Try switching to some aged Gouda, or a nice Pecorino, stay away from the Brie. Just a warning, the aged cheese has a higher fat content than the fresher ones. It's true. I'll get sciencey some other post.
  • You can try goat's or sheep's milk cheese. Many people have difficulty digesting cow's milk products, but find goat and sheep to be easier on the tummy
  • Eat cheese around those who love you. If cheese gives cheese makes you sound as though you are playing the trumpet, trombone, or in extreme cases, the tuba, people who love you will forgive.
  • Take a pill. In the current issue of Culture I can't believe you haven't subscribed yet. What are you waiting for?! Kate Arding addresses the lactose intolerance question. In addition to the aged cheeses, and goat and sheep suggestions, she has one other suggestion:
    "A trip to your drug store can equip you with the pharmaceutical version of lactase. While it's not medically recommended that you remain on a permanent course of this replacement enzyme, occasional use prior to an unrestrained cheese fest is considered a prudent way to have your cheese and eat it too."
Mmmmm. Unrestrained cheese fest. I can't wait for the ACS festival of cheese. Kate doesn't work at Cowgirl anymore, but I really like this article and thought you might also.

There are different ways to work around an intolerance. Give them a try and see what happens. Soy products are tasty mmm jerk tofu but they are not cheese, nor are they an adequate cheese substitute. If you can't eat cheese at all, I'm afraid that having a grilled cheese sandwich is not a possibility in your world. I feel sorry for you. I will celebrate National Grilled Cheese Month in honor of all those who cannot.

Please bear in mind that I am a cheesy wench, not a doctor. I don't' know you (except for you guys over there) or your body.
That sounds dirtier than I wanted it to. I would like to add that you should always discuss any change in your meds and supplements (even over the counter ones) with your doctor. If you are having bad reactions to any food, you should discuss it with your doctor. I want you to be good and healthy and strong of tummy so that you can enjoy cheese.


Lo said...

It's true that there are great options for those who are lactose intolerant -- and most options are FAR superior to soy cheese (which has also been processed to the hilt... and is, hence, not as great as it could be).

Anonymous said...

While I don understand that some soy products are not that tasty.. I have a daughter who is allergic to milk and eggs but LOVES!!! soy cheese. I only came to this sight because it said that you have soy string cheese which now see, now I see that you are only talking bad about it. Also i would like you to know that soy cheese is not "processed to the hilt" i buy it at Whole Foods; and it is great and does not have any but rice or soy milk in it! Check your facts before you say something.I will not be comming baqck to this site ever,to be honest i am really disapointed.