Everywhere I go this holiday season, huge festive plates of crackers and cheese tease my allergic taste buds. BA (before allergies), I loved cheese! After all, I grew up in Vermont, the state that has more cows per capita than humans. As if it was yesterday, I remember enjoying thick cheddar on apple pie, melted Swiss on rye crackers, cream cheese swirled in broccoli, ricotta lasagna, parmesan sprinkled on spaghetti.
Then I was diagnosed with a dairy allergy. Sigh.
Seeking help at the healthfood store, I discovered the most common alternative to dairy cheese is vegan cheese . . . made from soy.
I’m allergic to soy.
So I turned to nut cheeses. I’m not allergic to nuts. Nut cheese will do in a pinch (and some allergic foodies love them), but honestly I don’t find cheeses made from almonds and cashews and hazelnuts all that flavorful (I do like almond yogurt flavored with fruit though!).
This allergic foodie did a happy dance when she discovered cheese made from goat’s and sheep’s milk (this was a few years back, before goat cheese became so popular). I thought the goats and sheep had saved me
until I got sick, really sick, after eating a goat cheese salad. Imagine my disappointment when I read that many allergic foodies who can’t eat dairy also can’t eat goat’s or sheep’s milk. C’mon! Can’t a cheese-loving allergic foodie get a break?!
According to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Food Allergies, “If you are allergic to one food group, you may also be allergic to another food in the same family because they share similar proteins.” The authors include cow and goat under the listing of “dairy proucts.” The Food Allergy and Anaphalaxis Nework states on their web site that goat milk is not a safe alternative to cow’s milk. Many other foodies I’ve talked with say they are indeed allergic to both cow and goat and sometimes sheep.
Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living provides some more positive info. The author writes, “Goat milk is slightly closer in composition to human milk than cow milk is, with proteins that may be easier to digest. It is estimated that 20 to 40% of milk allergic individuals do not react to goat milk [my emphasis].” However, she goes on to say, “Milk allergic individuals should obtain an allergy test prior to trialing, as most people who are allergic to cow milk have similar reactions to goat milk. Plus, a rare few are in fact more allergic to [the casein or whey in] goat milk.”
Ah ha. Maybe it wasn’t the goat part I was allergic to, but rather the other strange-sounding and -looking stuff in my cheese. I dug out my massive allergy-testing paperwork from ImuPro, as it’s been a few years since I’ve read the results. Under the category of “milk products,” I had no allergic reaction to camel’s milk and mare’s milk–those should be easy to find on the grocery shelf!–and [insert drum roll here] I had no reaction to SHEEP’S MILK AND CHEESE.
Reading on . . . it appears I have a slight reaction to goat cheese (blame my allergy-induced brain fog for not remembering that one!). I am also quite allergic to halloumi, rennet, kefir, and whey. Huh? I’ve often seen these ingredients listed on the labels of dairy products, but since I’m not sure what they are, I put on my investigative hat. I discovered a lot of ingredient and allergy crossover, which probably explains my reactions to most types of cheeses.
Halloumi is a semi-hard and unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk (gotta read those labels carefully). It is set with rennet. Trader Joe’s has a handy list of rennet definitions. Basically, animal rennet is an enzyme that comes from the stomach (yuck!) of a suckling calf, lamb or goat; vegetable rennet is derived from plants (soy alert!); and microbial rennet is derived from microorganisms (fungi and bacteria; mold alert!) through a process of fermentation.
Kefir, according to my ImuPro test, is a thick and slightly alcoholic fermented milk product that is often used for milk mix drinks, sweets or sauces. I’ve seen kefir advertised lately as a health benefit, but certainly not for those of us who are allergic to it. Finally, whey is the watery liquid that separates from the solid part of milk when it turns sour or when enzymes are added in cheese making.
Wow. Cheese is not my friend.* My best guess is that when I developed leaky gut, I was eating a lot of cheese and crackers with my wine. This holiday season I’ll be grabbing the grapes.
* In Italy, I ate mozzarella made from water buffalo–no reaction!
Cow’s milk can be disguised under the labels of:
Butter (Many restaurants I’ve encountered don’t realize butter is dairy!)
- Milk proteins
- Whole milk, dried whole milk, concentrated milk
- Sour cream
(Note: Lactic Acid is not derived from dairy.)