Lactose-free cheese is either cheese treated so it has less lactose in it, or a cheese-like product made from non-dairy sources so it contains no lactose. Lactose is the sugar that appears naturally in milk and most dairy products, and a component of dairy to which a relatively large number of people have a negative reaction. Some brands of cheese advertise their cheese as naturally lactose-free cheese because the process of aging cheese can reduce the levels of lactose to tolerable levels for some people.
People who have a negative reaction to the lactose sugars in dairy are called lactose intolerant, and they usually assume a lactose-reduced or lactose-free diet to improve their symptoms. Different people have different levels of lactose intolerance that can affect how they react to some types of lactose-free cheese. Most dairy-based lactose-free cheeses are not completely lactose-free, but contain such an incredibly small percentage of lactose that it rarely triggers reactions.
Many sharp cheeses are nearly free of lactose. This can help adults with relatively low levels of lactose intolerance, but sharp lactose-free cheese is generally too potent in flavor for children's tastes. For the most part, the sharper the cheese, the less likely it is to have lactose in it.
Lactose-free cheese made from dairy that has been treated to remove the lactose is one option for those on lactose-free diets. Another option is non dairy products, which naturally contain no lactose because they are not made from dairy milk. Non-dairy substitutions for dairy products are as wide in variety as lactose-free products, and also include products made to resemble cheese, milk and yogurt.
Non-dairy milk substitution choices are many, and include almond milk, soy milk, and hemp milk. Each type of non-dairy milk can be treated to make cheese-like substitutes, particularly those resembling soft cheeses like the ones used to make dips and spreads for chips and crackers. Lactose-free cheese that is not made with any dairy is the best option for people who are highly sensitive to the presence of small amounts of lactose. Besides lactose-free cheese, other lactose-free products are many, and include ice cream, milk and baby formula with no lactose or reduced levels of lactose. Though they are not always exactly the same in flavor and texture as their true dairy counterparts, lactose-free products can offer an alternative for people who cannot eat dairy sugar without negative consequences.