Being lactose intolerant in the Netherlands is immoral. It is a crime against culture, a sign of evil and completely socially unacceptable. And, sometimes, it can be plain impossible!
Well at least it seems so at first.
But something was lurking in the corners of my Dutch life fantasies. Something creamy. Something that sprinkles perfectly over pasta. Something that can be matched perfectly with a nice bottle of red wine.
That something was cheese.
Lactose Intolerant in the Netherlands: The Cheese Challenge
Dutch people are, in general, very proud people. They are proud of their culture, proud of their great artists, proud of their language and proud of their cheese. As they should be!
Dutch people also like to ‘say it how it is’. You can trust a Dutch person to be straightforward and let you know when something irritates them.
I learnt quite quickly that lactose intolerance irritates people. A lot.
To understand the Dutch inability to accept lactose intolerance, you have to be aware that Dutch people have the lowest lactose intolerance rates in the world.
Just 3% of the nation has a biologically bad relationship with the primary ingredient of the nation’s favourite food. Dutch people live and breathe dairy, and many believe it is the cause of their claim to fame as the tallest people in the world.
A dairy way of life
Dairy is not just a food group in The Netherlands — it is a way of life. Dutch people love the stuff. Every kitchen I have entered in the country has a cheese cutter alongside knives and forks. Grown men in offices wearing suits slurp on glasses of milk with their lunch, and the cheese aisle in the supermarket might as well be a nation of its own.
How can you possibly try and integrate into a country where you are biologically incapable of the most fundamental lifestyle element of all? How can you possibly live dairy free in a land of milk-sipping giants?
Dairy is the way to a Dutch person’s heart, and without the digestive capacity to bond over a nice piece of gouda, my love life is certainly suffering.
I have attempted to find Dutch culinary alternatives but it is not quite as romantic to flirt while sliding a slippery raw herring into your mouth…
Lactose Intolerant in the Netherlands: a way out?
But fellow lactose-intolerantees bound for the Netherlands, do not fear!
There is one big benefit to your dairy-free dilemma. It is the perfect excuse to skip one of the most ridiculous meals of the day.
Most of the world knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but from watching my housemates start the day with chocolate sprinkles on toast, I think the Netherlands missed the ‘breakfast of champions’ memo. 🏆
I’m not joking. Fully grown adults do this here. It’s completely normal and called hagelslag. It looks like the kind of snack you would serve at a children’s party where I’m from, but hey — I’m lactose intolerant, so it’s not my problem.
Have you experienced these problems being lactose-free in the Netherlands? Tell us in a comment below! 👇
This article was originally published in August 2016, and was fully updated in May 2023 for your reading pleasure.