Does this mean lactose-intolerant people can never have cheese, ever?
Not quite. The fresher the cheese, the more lactose. That's bad. For the most part, though, aged, harder cheeses will have varying portions of their lactose turned into less harmful lactic acid by the time it reaches the charcuterie platter. That's good. In addition, during the aging process, some lactose is separated and drained off with the whey, which brings the lactose percentage down with it. Also good.
Generally, if you are sensitive, you never want a cheese with a sugar content (remember, you can think of lactose as "cheese sugar") approaching 5 grams per serving, at the very least. There are myriad cheeses out there that fit the bill, and come in way under 5 grams of sugar per serving. Some of these cheeses (here's looking at you, Parmesan) have barely measurable amounts.
So, what cheeses can lactose-intolerant folks actually eat?
Using lactose percentages composed and collected by the aptly named "Steve Carper's Lactose Intolerance Clearing House" (his numbers are legit and thoroughly sourced, despite the early '90s website), here are some of the most LII-friendly cheeses on the market. Remember, you want to get below 5 grams of sugar per serving, or in these terms, at or below the 2-3% lactose range. For reference, whole milk has a lactose average ranging from 3.7-4.8%.
- Muenster: 0-1.1% lactose range
- Camembert: 0-1.8% lactose range
- Brie: 0-2% lactose range
- Cheddar: 0-2.1% lactose range
- Provolone: 0-2.1% lactose range
- Gouda: 0-2.2% lactose range
- Blue: 0-2.5% lactose range
- Parmesan: 0-3.2% lactose range
- Swiss: 0-3.4% lactose range