The straight answer to your question is, “It depends.” Gluten, which mostly comes from wheat grains, is not needed to make cheese. If you’re making it at home, the possibility of cheese containing gluten is definitely “zero.”
However, the answer will vary if you get the cheese from somewhere else. Grocery, supermarket or straight from the manufacturer. The answer will change to “maybe.”
Most gourmet cheese are gluten-free. More often than not, they’re prepared using homemade instructions. Beer-washed cheese, unless gluten-free is explicitly written. Parmesan and Cheddar are normally gluten-free and so as the others:
- Cream cheese
- Feta cheese
- Goat cheese
- Parmesan cheese
- Provolone cheese
- Ricotta cheese
- Swiss cheese
If your system is not tolerant to gluten or you have relatives who are sensitive to it, you’d better question everything that you eat.
Many foods are naturally gluten free. How could fruit and vegetables contain gluten? However, you never know how shady the industry could get.
Continue reading and you’ll find out more!
Why Do Gluten-free Cheese Matter?
Gluten is generally regarded as safe, at least for the majority who are tolerant. Others who have gluten sensitivity and celiac disease will have adverse reactions.
If you’re gluten sensitive, it may cause you skin rashes, depression, stomach bloating, fatigue, and digestive tract problems.
The gluten limit for gluten-free foods is less than 20ppm. Which is also the limit every laboratory can detect. So gluten-free may not be 100% gluten-free. But, don’t worry too much about it. As long as you never consume more than 50mg gluten per day, you’ll be safe.
By the way, if you have celiac disease, more than 50mg intake a day will cause you intestinal damage. So, knowing whether the cheese is gluten-free or not really matters.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, and wheat being the most common.
It mixes with water forming a glue-like paste. It’s essential for bread making, to be able to trap air bubbles and cause the bread to leaven.
How to Make Cheese
For you to understand it better, I will discuss a brief overview of the cheese making process.
Depending what kind of cheese the manufacturer is making, these are the integral ingredients:
- Milk from cow, goat, sheep or buffalo. I recommend raw milk but pasteurized and other slightly processed counterparts may do.
- Vinegar or any similar acid like lime juice, calamansi, and cider.
- Microbial starter. It could be a bacteria or a mold.
- Rennet. An enzyme from the gut of an animal producing milk.
- Salt. Any kind of salt such as table salt, rock salt, Kosher salt and Himalayan pink salt.
Firstly, the preferred milk is curdled with either vinegar or rennet and microbes combo. Secondly, the curd is separated through filtration. The curd is what we call cheese.
With the basic idea of how to make cheese, there is no way it could contain gluten.
Blue cheese or Roquefort may not be gluten-free
Blue cheese or Roquefort may have a miniscule amount because the mold inoculant is often grown on rye grains. However, blue cheese makers, nowadays, rarely use rye to grow starter mold.
Experts and manufacturer’s claim that traces of gluten in blue cheese are too small to be harmful.
I recommend reading the label or contacting the cheese maker to confirm. Don’t be complacent because blue cheese or Roquefort may not be gluten-free.
How they’re Hiding the Truth
You might never know the truth right away unless you read or ask. Therefore, I recommend reading the label carefully and calling the customer service whenever possible.
Gluten may hide from your discerning eye, but symptoms will be evident after. The cheese might contain cornstarch as extender, especially wheat starch and modified starch.
They modified cheese to improve texture and might have incidentally added gluten contained in other ingredients. Pay close attention to fat-free, low fat, low salt cheeses. They might have modified starch containing gluten.
Cheese is also suspected of containing gluten if pre-packaged with other products such as breads, biscuits and cookies.
Examples of other cheese products that may contain gluten are:
- cheese sauce
- cheese spray
- dairy-free cheese
Gluten acts as stabilizer, keeping the food components intact and lengthening storage life. Look for the following shady food ingredients:
- hydrolyzed wheat protein
- malt extract
- malt vinegar
- modified starch
- cellulose powder
- vegetable gum
- artificial color
- artificial flavor
- natural color
- natural flavor
- spice mix
Cheese and Gluten Cross Contamination May Happen
It may happen in facilities where other gluten containing products are manufactured. The reason why you often see in labels, “processed in equipment used to make bread.” If so, the cheese you’re taking might have, due to cheese and gluten cross contamination.
Cross contamination may also happen at the farm and transport. The place where farmers raise milking cows and at the same time growing wheat. Or, the transport of fresh cheese together with bread and wheat products. Chances are slim but these slim chances are likely to catch you off guard.
Unless the staff are well organized, ingredients are usually unorderly. In addition, they may use the same knife for cutting vegetables, meat, bread and cheese. If you have doubt, you may ask for a kitchen tour to see how they prepare foods.
Are Shredded Cheese, such as Kraft and Sargento, Gluten-free?
Shredded cheese is gluten-free if the anti-clumping agent used is either calcium carbonate or potato starch. The other clumping agent, called cellulose powder, is made of wheat. Needless to say, if cellulose powder is used, it’s not gluten free.
Both cheese have test scores of 20ppm below which pass the gluten-free category. In addition, Sargento claimed they never use gluten-based powdered cellulose.
So what’s the best way to make sure what you eat is gluten-free?
Go make the cheese yourself. It only needs two basic ingredients and it won’t take you long to make. One hour while you’re listening to your favorite podcast is more than enough. Get fresh whole milk and lemon juice. Then you’re good to go curdling and filtering off your very own gluten-free cheese.
Don’t have time to make cheese?
No worries, you’re not out of options yet. Go to a nearby artisanal shop to get the cheese you’re craving for. If the shop makes the cheese themselves, they’ll be happy to share a glimpse of their process to you. And if they’re getting the cheese from somewhere else, ask if they have scrutinized their source well.
Getting your cheese from grocery shelves?
Check the label well, paying close attention to ingredient listing. Look for something suggestive of gluten. It’s even better if there is a phone number you can call. The customer service will be more than happy to serve you. Asking will do more good than harm.