Since none of the ingredients that contain gluten — namely wheat, barley and rye — are essential features in the cheese-making process, all cheese can be considered gluten-free. However, cross-contamination during serving and additives used in packaging mean that those who suffer from celiac disease should always scour labels for hidden sources of gluten. The issue is well-championed and most major brands flag sources of gluten where appropriate.
These blue cheeses owe their smooth, velvety texture — ideal for cold platters with pickles and crackers — to mold cultures that penetrate the cheese along distinctive blue veins. Historically, cheeses were left to accumulate mold from their surroundings, but modern production introduces the mold artificially. In some cases, the mold is grown on bread, wheat or barley containing gluten. That said, gluten levels in most commercially produced blue cheeses are far below the 20 parts per million benchmark set by the Food and Drug Administration, and the presence of gluten can be considered negligible.
- Cottage cheeses can contain modified food starch, one of the additives that could potentially disguise the presence of gluten. With the rise of gluten-free diets, most producers opt for corn- or potato-based starches, which are gluten-free. Where the source is wheat, the label will normally make it clear that the cheese contains gluten.
- Shredded cheese, such as the ready-made bags for scattering on pizza, can be dusted with powdered cellulose or anti-caking agents to stop it sticking. Again, potato starch is the most popular option, and those brands that use wheat-based starches include the information in the ingredients.
- Likewise, grated cheeses such as Parmesan can contain wheat-based fillers and agents to prevent clumping. To avoid any confusion, buy the cheese still in the block and grate it as needed, taking care to avoid cross-contamination through utensils used for gluten-containing products.
Fontina, goat cheese and Parmesan may also contain rennet, a coagulant that can contain gluten-based products. The practice is much more common in Europe, however. In the U.S., gluten-free ingredients are preferred for preparing the cheese.
Mozzarella and ricotta may contain distilled vinegar, which is highly processed, unlike corn, rice and balsamic vinegars, which are gluten-free. However, most commercially produced distilled vinegars are diluted and fall below 20 ppm. Malt vinegar, on the other hand, is off limits for celiac sufferers, although its use as a cheese preservative is unlikely.
As soon as a cheese is flavored or processed, gluten-containing products can sneak in. Cheeses that are flavored with beer, imitation black pepper or spice mixes containing additives all require a check of the ingredient list.