Butterfat in Cheese

Most often cheese gets a bad rap when it comes to how fattening it might be compared to other foods. This is especially true with the creamy Brie style cheeses. The truth of the matter might surprise you.

Let’s first consider how cheese is labeled and classified in its relationship with butterfat. There are four categories concerning percentage of fat.

Single Crème   45% matière grasse or m.g. (Dry Matter)
Double Crème 60% matière grasse or m.g.
Triple Crème   75% matière grasse or m.g.
Skimmed Milk Less than 45% matière grasse or m.g.

This is most common with French cheese. Domestic labels might read in dry matter or IDM.

So, you might assume for example that a double Crème cheese would be 60% fat by volume. Here’s the problem, they can only measure butterfat in dry matter or solids with the liquids removed and since most cheeses are over 50% water you need to divide the fat percentage on the label by two to determine the amount of actual butterfat in the cheese. Therefore, a double crème 60% cheese is only 30 to 31% fat in its present form.

One common assumption is, the creamier looking the cheese the more fat.  The firmer the cheese the less fat. This would be wrong. All cheese is in a constant state of evaporation. The less water in the cheese the more concentrated the fat. If you compare two cheeses, a hard Gouda and a ripe Brie, the gouda labeled with the same butterfat as the Brie will have the higher actual fat content.

Notice the photo of Fromager D”Affinois soft-ripening cheese. This is one of our most popular items in the store. You will notice that in the upper right side you will see 60% Fat in dry matter. On the left side you will see 31% fat total. That’s the actual fat content in its present condition. There are not many cheeses that show this.  Bottom line, most people are much happier eating something 30% fat versus 60% fat.

Butterfat in Milk

Milk is sold with different amounts of butterfat content: whole milk, 2%, 1% and non-fat. However, the percentage of butterfat content in the milk that cows produce can differ between breeds. This amount will vary from 3.5% to as high as 5% or more. The amount of fat in milk will also depend on the time of year the milk is produced. Cows that graze on fresh spring and summer grass may yield more butterfat and slightly sweeter milk than cows eating drier matter during fall and winter. However, nutrition can vary and there is no set rule here as to what season is best for more butterfat. Cows in both early and late lactation produce more butter fat than cows in mid lactation.

Milk types with lower butterfat content simply have varying amounts of butterfat removed. This is accomplished by letting milk sit, then skimming off the cream which rises to the top. Whole milk is basically milk straight from a cow where nothing has been done to alter its butterfat content. Often, butterfat is removed expressly for cheese-making consistency since the steady percentage of fat in the milk results in a consistent-tasting cheese.

As a point of interest, if you read the signage on a 2% milk carton it may state that it contains 38% less fat than whole milk. This wording can create the illusion of a big difference in fat content. Although the numbers are technically correct, this is actually taking a product – milk straight from a cow – that has less than 4% fat to begin with, down to 2% percent, a difference of about 1.5% of the total volume of milk.

Lactose in cheese

Many people assume they cannot eat cheese because they are lactose intolerant. It’s important  to find out whether you are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy products. For those of you who have been diagnosed as being truly lactose intolerant there might be good news. You may need to re-think omitting cheese from your diet.

Lactose  intolerance is the inability to digest lactose sugar in milk.  In order to understand this, let’s first look at milk and cheese making. Cow’s milk is approximately 87% water, 3-5% fat, 3 1/2 % protein, 5% milk sugar and an assortment of vitamins and minerals. Lactose is the main sugar and it’s made up of dextrose and galactose. Digesting is the process of splitting up the lactose into these two sugars. This is accomplished with the help of an enzyme produced naturally in humans called lactase. This later ferments and becomes lactic acid. Some people do not create lactase, hence the problem. Almost all cheeses become lactose free after six months.

People have different reactions to various foods so it is best to see what works for you. If you do have a problem it could be a dairy allergy problem, not a lactose intolerance issue. Fat content varies among animals. Cow’s milk has a slightly higher amount of lactose then goat’s milk. However, in its concentrated cheese form the difference is insignificant.

Butterfat and Lactose in Milk and Cheese
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