What Can a Chef Teach Us About Lactose Intolerance?

By Tiffany Hull, MS, RDN, LD, FAND on 07/19/2016

Tags: Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance seems to be a prevalent condition; 1 in 10 adults reports having it. But most of this is through self-diagnosis – they suffer discomfort after eating dairy and then avoid dairy altogether, thinking they can’t tolerate it. Unfortunately, they often miss out on important nutrients such as calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D. Not to mention depriving themselves of some of the world’s most delicious foods!

Recently, Dairy MAX partnered with the Oklahoma City District Dietetic Association to host Cooking with Caitlin, an event designed to educate health professionals and the public about lactose intolerance.

Dietitians, family physicians, food bloggers and members of local media gathered in the beautiful Boathouse District of Oklahoma City to sample nine delicious low-lactose dishes prepared by Chef Caitlin Steininger, a classically trained chef who’s on a mission to show how dairy can be incorporated into everyone’s diet.

So what did we learn from the chef?

  1. Lactose intolerance is not a milk allergy. A milk allergy is an immune response to the protein in dairy products – in which case, all dairy must be avoided. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is a deficiency in lactase (a digestive enzyme) that prevents a person from breaking down lactose (milk sugar), creating unpleasant side effects. With LI, people can still enjoy dairy foods like the three appetizers Chef Caitlin prepared:

    • Monterey Jack tuilles with homemade pico de gallo and avocado
    • Baby greens salad with black pepper and yogurt dressing
    • Beef and cheddar cheese baked hand pies

    The tuilles and hand pies used aged cheeses (which contain less lactose) and the salad dressing was made from yogurt – whose live and active cultures help break down the lactose.

  2. Lactose intolerance is not as prevalent as it seems, and those who avoid dairy because of it miss out on many essential nutrients. Those who avoid dairy miss out on nutrients that are important in the development of the bones and the prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease and obesity. Chef Caitlin used lactose-free milk (with added lactase to break down the lactose) to create enticing entrees high in those nutrients, but low in lactose:

    • Fresh corn polenta with blistered tomatoes and crispy barbecue
    • Schwab’s Italian sausage sandwiches with homemade lactose-free ricotta (recipe below)
    • Blackened catfish cakes with Greek yogurt remoulade
  3. Milk alternatives are not the same as real dairy milk. Chef Caitlin emphasized that the protein in milk is essential for the chemistry when cooking foods using dairy. Most milk alternatives are low in protein, and often contain lots of additives. Real dairy milk – even lactose-free – has 8 grams of protein per serving, which allows foods made with milk to cook properly. We rounded out the evening with three fabulous desserts:

    • Biscuits with homemade peach jam
    • Pecan pie truffles
    • Milkshakes made with homemade strawberry syrup (recipe below)

    No meal is complete without dessert, and nobody should miss these delights.

Homemade Lactose-Free Ricotta

Yields: 1 1/2 cups

Serves: about 12

Serving size: 1 ounce

Cook time: 15-20 minutes


  • 6 cups lactose-free whole milk
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon salt


  1. Add your milk to a pot and turn to medium-high heat. Heat slowly, stirring occasionally and checking to be sure the milk is not burning on the bottom.
  2. When the milk reaches 200 degrees, reduce heat to low, and gently stir in lemon juice. Stir for 1 minute and then let milk sit for 5 minutes without touching it.
  3. After 5 minutes, the curds will start to separate from the whey; now, pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Do not push out the extra liquid or let the cheese sit too long in the sieve.
  4. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt at a time (to your liking), cover, and refrigerate until serving. 

Tips + Tricks:

  • Plain ricotta is very mild in flavor, so it makes a wonderful backdrop for sweet or savory flavor. Try adding a dash of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey instead of salt, or make it savory by steeping lemon zest or fresh herbs into the milk as it comes to temperature.

Lactose-Free Strawberry Milkshakes

Yields: 6 shakes

Serves: 6

Cook time: 20 minutes


  • 1 16-ounce carton fresh strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 32-ounce container Lactaid Vanilla Ice Cream
  • 2-3 cups lactose-free milk
  • Fresh mint or basil leaves (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Wash strawberries and remove the stems, then roughly chop and combine with the sugar and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or tin foil. Spread strawberry mixture on top and roast for 15-20 minutes until the strawberries are tender; remove from the oven and let cool.
  4. Transfer the cooled strawberries and their juices to a blender and blend to a fine consistency; pour into a small bowl.
  5. Assemble and blend the shakes: Pulse together 1/2 of the strawberry puree with 2 cups of Lactaid Vanilla Ice Cream, and then add 1/2 to 1 cup of milk (depending on your desired thickness). Blend in or garnish with fresh mint or basil leaves and serve right away.

Tips + Tricks:

  • You can make and refrigerate the strawberry puree up to a week in advance of serving. Save leftovers for sandwich, cake and yogurt fillings. Add fresh cracked black pepper for more interesting flavor.