Our collective love of cheese knows no bounds. We work the creamy mana into conversation at the drop of a hat, and into even the most unexpected meals. No topic, and no time of day is off limits when it comes to cheese. How to make the best cheese board? Happy to weigh in on that. A recipe for peanut butter grilled cheese? We’ve got you covered. People love cheese. But cheese doesn’t always love us back.
From obvious issues like lactose intolerance to increasing our risk of diabetes and obesity, hitting the cheese board too hard on repeat can lead to a litany of less than ideal consequences. But there are thankfully ways to hedge your bets and err on the side of relatively healthier options that still manage to hit the spot. And while it doesn’t take a milkmaid to correctly suss out that fresh cheeses like ricotta and queso fresco are generally going to be healthier options than nitrate-laden smoked cheeses or – *shudder* – processed, oil-based “cheeses,” there is another lens through which to view cheese nutrition that you might not have previously considered. Namely, which animal is the milk coming from.
But you need to look past the usual suspects – sheep, goats, and especially cows – to begin to zero in on the healthiest cheeses out there. Think outside the box – way, way outside the box – and start building your board with products made from donkey, yak, llama, alpaca, camel and reindeer milk if you truly want the most nutritionally dense cheese. In addition to packing a nutritious punch, cheeses made from the milk of these animals also contain lower levels of the stomach-churning lactose so prominently featured in dairy cow milk.
One untraditional animal outweighs even this coterie of exotic milk makers though, making it the clear winner when it comes to healthy cheeses. If you want to indulge your cheese tooth (that’s a thing, right?) with only the most salubrious samplings, then look no further than moose milk cheese. Yes, that’s right, moose cheese is the healthiest in the world.
Moose milk actually includes the subcategory of elk milk as well, and both are considered among the healthiest drinks in the entire world. Moose milk has been linked to the prevention of gastrointestinal diseases, and is consumed by the elderly and ill in parts of Russia, Sweden and Canada for its immune system-boosting powers. Moose milk is naturally quite high in both butterfat and milk solids, making it an ideal elixir to transform into cheese.
And once it has, moose cheese is lauded for its nutritional benefits. Moose cheese contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acids alike, and much lower levels of problematic cow cheese components casein and saturated fat. Compared to cheese made from cow milk, moose cheese possesses higher levels of selenium, zinc and iron. The cheese is credited with everything from decreasing inflammation and lowering blood pressure to assisting in building muscle mass and straight up fighting cancer.
And how does it taste? Like a wilder, gamier take on a classic, owing to the wilder arctic plant-based diet of the animals. Moose milk is primarily used to create just three, quite rich, varieties of cheese: blue, feta and a rind-style. Getting your paws on the stuff is going to cost you though. The going rate here in the states for a pound of imported moose cheese is a whopping $455.
If you’re wondering what the opposite end of the spectrum holds in terms of the unhealthiest animal cheese option, allow me to spoil your appetite for the rest of the week. Owing to the high risk of debilitating infection caused by the staph bacteria often present on the bodies of the hosts, the unhealthiest – or at least the riskiest – cheese in the world comes from milk harvested from humans. That’s right, cheese can actually be produced by harvesting bacteria present on human skin, especially from belly buttons, feet and armpits. Pardon us if we abstain just this once from the cheese plate.