I am a lactose intolerant cheesemonger

Do you miss cheese?

Do you long for the bite of a sharp cheddar, the crunchy crystals in an aged gouda?

I have been lactose intolerant for more than 25 years. The condition emerged out of the blue and – given that I had grown up drinking gallons of Minnesota milk and eating mountains of ice cream and cheese – came as a bit of a shock.

A few years ago, the lactase supplements grew less and less effective. I had so firmly linked dairy with digestive upsets that I simply avoided it whenever possible. Cheese was the last to go. I would gladly suffer for a good pizza or a plate of saganaki, a buttery soft kaseri that is grilled, flambéd, doused with lemon juice, and spread on soft, crusty bread.

Opa!

Then I met a cheesemonger who introduced me to sheep’s milk cheese, starting with an aged manchego from the La Mancha region of Spain. The crumbly, nutty sweetness won my heart and, best of all, left me with no lingering… well, after-effects.

I did not become a cheesemonger because of manchego or any of the “lactose-free” cheeses I’ve discovered since. I am not a chef, no one I know would describe me as a “foodie”. That I have this job is a bit of a fluke.

But there is great joy here, whether I’m introducing a veteran turophile to a creamy, new brie or slicing a sample for a 5-year-old who adores smoked cheddar. I hear Gene Wilder’s “yummy sound” at least once during every shift.

After 20 years in journalism, I did not expect this “second stage.” But it brought dairy back into my life, one cheese at a time.