A Cheese For The Intolerant

I spent the day recently in Cornwall, NY – the home of Storm King, the extraordinary outdoor sculpture garden north of New York City. Population two, three thousand?  No more. It felt good to get out of the throbbing city, to shock my lungs with country air and see a sky not pierced by tall buildings.

I often ask myself why I don’t live in the country. No answer. But for some reason, when I eat sheep’s cheese (above) and sheep’s yogurt (my latest indulgence), I have visions of fields and fences and a treasured red wool sweater I wore for thirty consecutive days when I was five. I don’t feel this way about cows, but sheep to a city girl – barnyard exotic.

For the lactose intolerant, there’s another reason to celebrate sheep. Sheep’s milk products are often better tolerated by the intolerant. It seems to be because the fat is quite a bit higher in sheep’s milk. Lactose is a water-soluble molecule, so the higher the fat content, the lower the lactose. (Butter, for example, has virtually no lactose and skim milk has more than whole milk). The protein is also nearly double in sheep’s cheese and yogurt (vs cow’s) and the calcium is about 50% higher. (Goat’s cheese also has somewhat less lactose than cow.)

In general – even in the case of cow’s milk- cheese and yogurt are usually easier to tolerate for the lactose intolerant, since the bacteria consumes much of the lactose. And the more aged the cheese, the less lactose it will have.

So I had just bought some sheep’s cheese at the market when I spotted some winter root-vegetable holdouts, that I was not able to keep my hands off because they looked so un-enticing (see below). There is nothing more satisfying than taking a filthy, homely vegetable and with the magic of knives and fire, transforming it.

The end result: Roasted parsnips (basically a taste-cross between a chestnut and a slightly sweet white potato), beets, sheep’s feta, and tarragon infused oil (with the wilted tarragon on top of the pile.)

The salty feta and tarragon balance the sweetness of the beets and parsnips. The herb oil infusion is super simple and can be done with any herb and drizzled over anything! – steamed vegs, a piece of fish, quinoa, brown rice… Simply heat the oil, add the herb sprigs, turn off heat and let sit (a few minutes or longer if you have time), then drizzle it all over whatever you’re serving, being sure not to leave the herbs themselves behind.

Get the recipe here.

Dirty beets and parsnip tails. Country clouds.

You definitely pay a premium for the relative rarity of sheep’s products so they won’t be putting cows out of business anytime soon, but for a treat try it. You might start with the brand Old Chatham Sheepherding Company which is sold in many healthier food stores.

I personally am not lactose intolerant, so I’d be curious to hear if anyone who is, has found a higher tolerance with sheep or goat. Any sheep or goat connoisseurs who can weigh in?

Related Posts

How To Roast On The Stove Top (If you want to slash cooking time.)
Squash and Barley “Salad” (A recipe.)
Best. Cheese. Ever (And I still feel this way 6 mos later. PS: It’s a goat cheese.)


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  • JillM

    My  youngest can’t do dairy. Allergic, intolerant- whatever. We’ve never bothered to have her officially tested. The reactions I’ve observed were good enough for me and our pediatrician to just know to avoid it. She breaks out in a rash, scratches till she bleeds, and worst of all for everyone becomes an emotion weeping wreck. We tried goat milk once with no success, but goat cheese and sheep cheese have been problem free and it is wonderful! I have found how much I love it myself! She can spread the goat cheese on a bagel when the others have cream cheese, we make homemade mac n cheese with it, and the sheep feta we get is so wonderfully good and mild that my picky son doesn’t mind it with dinner for everyone (sprinkled in salads, on top of a savory tart, etc). I’ve never been the kind of mom who wants to make separate meals and pleasing everyone in a family of five is hard enough without allergies. I am so happy that I have been able to find a wonderful bulk goat cheese at Sam’s Club and Trader Joe’s carries my very favorite sheep feta packaged in a salty brine (also a plain goat yogurt!). 
    Your recipe looks delicious!

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      That’s really interesting … there def seem to be certain qualities to goat and sheep products that make them easier for the lactose intolerant. It’s not simply that they have lower lactose, since I believe that explains only a small part but there is something inherent to their milk that causes far fewer problems for many.

    • Maloonch

      if i’m not mistaken, you’re describing an allergy not an intolerance. i grew up eating sheep cheese (parents from greece) and was so happy when the stuff made it’s way into the american supermarkets.

    • http://profiles.google.com/justin.bell Justin Bell

      Check out Ricotta Salata, costco carries it and it’s made from sheep milk. cheap and good

  • Ann

    I have food allergies and understand how difficult it can be.  Glad you found a way around yours!  

  • Lisa

    I own a cheese shop, and 6 months after opening it, was diagnosed with a dairy allergy (oh, cruel twist of fate :).  Honestly, it is okay- I can eat sheep’s milk cheese and yogurt with no issues, though I tolerate goat a little less.

  • http://twitter.com/KarmaCucina KarmaCucina

    Thank you for another spectacular AND informative writeup!  My husband has lactose issues, but he never has problems when he eat’s Pecorino Romano cheese.  Now I know why…  I will definitely pass this post along to him.

  • Passioneats

    Lactose intolerance aside, I love this combination. Any excuse to roast beets, and I love the pairing with parsnips. I’ll eat any kind of cheese, but usually prefer those made from anything but cow’s just for the novelty in flavor. Tarragon oil sounds like the perfect finish…I’ll have to try this one!

  • Innertouch Higgins

    I wonder if some of the problems with lactose intolerance come from the drugs that are fed to cows.  Not sure that all those drugs are fed to sheep and goats, and how it would affect the lactose in the milk.  Alternatives exist in nut milk, coconut milk, hemp seed milk, all of which you can make yourself in a blender.  High-powered blenders are better.  One cup of raw nuts or seeds, coconut (meat if possible, or unsweetened)  or even oats to two cups of purified water will puree beautifully into a milky substance that is free of animal anything.  Add more water to make your consistency right.

    Of course, if you have allergies to nuts, try the seeds.  If allergies to seeds, try the coconut.  Look for places that sell allergy-free products online.  The possibilities are there for all of us trying to live better.  Look further!

    • Jebbypal

      Nope, lactose intolerance is completely dependent on a person’s own ability to make lactase. Some (like me) are born completely intolerant.  A portion of the rest of the population will gradually lose it as the gene for lactase turns off naturally with age when humans get past the age of breast feeding.

      • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

        It’s true that most people’s ability to make lactase stops around 3 years old, but what I find interesting is that it seems that some people who continue to drink cows milk as children and adults, seem to encourage their body to continue lactase production, which the body would naturally turn off if there was no milk present.

        It seems that cultures that consume almost no milk after being weened (for example Asians) seem to have a higher % of the population that are lactose intolerant as adults than cultures that continue to consume milk throughout their life.

        • Jebbypal

          That’s exactly what happens. Although some are disheartened to find that this does have its limits as a friend of my discovered when he started drinking a gallon of milk a day while weight lifting.

  • Fred

    An enjoyable article….thanks!  Will look for and try sheep stuff next time I am in the health neighborhood.

  • BrownSok

    Now, is sheep’s milk as strong as goat’s milk?  I cannot stand goat’s milk cheese as I find it has a very offensive aftertaste that is somewhat akin to a stinky socks-rotten compost odour (and I can honestly say it’s the only food I fervently dislike!)  I would love to like goat’s milk cheese as I have had to avoid many an otherwise-appetizing menu item b/c of the goat’s milk cheese addition.  I don’t know about the lactose intolerance aspect but I am curious if there is some kind of genetic predisposition to not liking goat’s milk, not unlike that for cilantro (p.s. no one in my family can stand goat’s milk either…).  Ever heard of something like this? 

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      I can definitely see how goats milk products would draw fans and foes – it has a very distinctive grassy, pungent flavor – you either love it or hate it. I find that sheep’s cheese (and yogurt) has none of the distinctive taste, it is simply creamier than cow.

  • Rick Machado


    I see you like root veggies. Our farm produces a mixed colored carrot we call Rainbow Pride. It is not a mix of various colored carrots . It is a true cross of African, Indian, Asian, European,  and more. We are plant breeders as well as farmers. They are not only all  colors and more, some carrots have several colors on each carrot. One of a kind.

    Send me your shipping address. I’ll send you a pound  free for the great work you do


    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      Rick, that would be wonderful! I’ll send you my address in a direct email …

  • Laura

    I am lactose intolerant. Goat cheese does not bother me. I also love low fat swiss (finlandia has no lactose at all)
    I’ve also found greek style yogurt easier than regular

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      I have heard from others that they find thick greek yogurt easier than the regular kind and my hunch is that because lactose is water soluble, when you remove much of the water (whey) from the yogurt you remove some of the lactose. (In the same way that removing all the water from butter (by heating it), and turning it into ghee leaves you will a virtually 0 lactose food.)

  • Beth

    Next time you are in our neck of the woods, stay on this side of the Hudson and check out Glynwood farm in Cold Spring. I am part of their CSA and even living in the country, I still marvel at the beauty of this place. They are doing some great things there. You will find it hard to believe that you are only an hour outside of Gothic.

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      I love the Cold Spring area. I’ve never been to Glywood but I will make a point of making a trip there this summer- thanks for the tip off!

  • Missalexmissalex

    My daughter is allergic to the cow dairy protein, as opposed to sensitive to the sugar. As in, it makes her poop blood, or at least get doubled over in pain all night if she has a smidgen on accident. She LOVES goat yogurt and it appears to love her right back. I haven’t tried sheep because it sort of freaks me out. :)

  • Laura

    I wonder if anyone else has noticed this. I find it easier to digest dairy when it is less processed. Like pizza with fresh bufalo mozarella. Or farm stand yogurt. When things like “milk solids”are in the ingredients I know I willl have trouble.

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      I think there is some truth to this (milk solids do contain concentrated lactose) and I also believe it has to do with the higher fat % in those less processed foods you mentioned. (Though you might be buying 0 fat yogurt. Have you found you react differently to 0 fat farmers mkt yogurt and full fat farmers mkt yogurt? That would be an interesting test…)

  • http://twitter.com/SudsNYC Sudhir Kandula

    People should roast more things – especially parsnips & beets!! If you need company to get out of the city, I am game.

  • Anonymous

    Mmm – I love feta – around here I can get goat’s milk feta, bu have not seen sheep’s – yet.
     & I almost always prefer Romano to Parmesan.
    Looks like a very yummy recipe!
    1 of my fave things to do w/ feta is make a salad of chicory, sweet peppers, walnuts & feta, seasoned w/ oregano & black pepper & dressed w/ a little EV olive oil & lemon juice.

  • Anonymous

    Beet are so good for health.  Such a wonderful dish is present here. It is easy in made, very delicious in taste.  I loved to eat this tasty recipe again and again.

  • http://profiles.google.com/justin.bell Justin Bell

    I am allergic to cows milk but can ingest sheep, goat and water buffalo milk just fine.

  • Cat

    I’m so glad to find other people who can eat sheep cheese but not goat or cow!  I thought I was going slightly nuts, or imagining my intolerance, but the horrible reactions really weren’t imaginary!

    The reasoning also makes a lot of sense, for example I can have a splash of skimmed cow milk in tea and be ok, but even a think layer of butter will make me very ill.

    Discovering sheep cheese has been a joy, but if you’re in Europe be warned – the appellation control on feta has changed, it can now also contain goats milk, so if you’re intolerant be sure to read your ingredients.

  • Daniel

    It sounds like you have a mild milk protein allergy. thats what I have and my allergist said goats milk is often cross allergenic, the proteins are very similar. She said sheeps milk too, but better odds than goat, I could try if I wanted but not recomended. With say colby jack (cow) cheese on a sandwich that I didn’t notice I’d notice in the next few minutes when my esophagus began swelling shut. Sheep cheese gives me no problems at all, manchego is great on a sandwich!

  • http://lovebeets.com/ Love Beets

    There are many health benefits of sheep’s cheese, it has twice the quantity of wholesome lipids and other fats which are found in cow milk.

  • Smkyqtzxtl

    I grew up with sheep milk Pecorino Romano and buffalo milk ( water buffalo) mozzarella. I am Italian. It wasn’t until I go older and moved away from a large city to a small rural area where only cow products were available that I realized I couldn’t digest cow milk products. Finally found some sheep milk cheese imported from Sardinia at a grocer fifteen miles north. Heaven! I can have cheese again.

  • Joy

    I am reading this page because I have been eating manchego sheep cheese and noticed that I seemed to have less trouble than regular cows milk cheese. I will have to look for sheep feta now! I am not crazy about goat cheese except the hard variety.