The Dairy Dilemma: Lactose Intolerant in the Netherlands

Being lactose intolerant in the Netherlands is immoral. It is a crime against culture, a sign of evil and completely socially unacceptable.
Well at least it seems so at first.
I recently moved to the Netherlands with my mind filled with idealistic images . I saw myself frolicking through tulip fields in clogs, cycling past windmills and sailing through cosy canals. 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. 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 is irritating them.
I learnt quiet 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. Apparently only around 1% of the nation have a biologically bad relationship with the primary ingredient of the nations favourite food. Dutch people live and breath dairy, and many believe it is the cause for their claim to fame as the tallest people in the world.
Lactose Intolerant in the Netherlands

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 in 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 persons 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…
Braks Herring Dutch
Former Minister Braks downs some herring. This is how we roll

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 are aware 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.
The Netherlands and sprinkels are in a long and sugarcoated relationship ("Hagelslag korrels". Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons -
The Netherlands and sprinkels are in a long and sugarcoated relationship
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.


  1. Oh man this article got me a little worried. If they have a problem with lactose intolerant people, how would they deal with someone refusing a meal for being a vegan? :c

    • Don’t worry about it too much, we’re honestly really warm and accepting people. This article might be a bit of an exaggeration to be honest, we indeed do love our cheese and our toast with “hagelslag” paired with a glass of milk for breakfast, but it really isn’t as bad as they make it sound:)
      We are very down to earth, hospitable people and are not nose deep in anyone else’s business. But as soon as someone needs our help, doesn’t matter in what kind of situation, the majority of us will kindly offer you the things you need.

      So overall, if you ever plan on coming to the Netherlands don’t worry about us having a problem with for example vegans, vegetarians or people that are lactose intolerant. There are plenty of substitutes and it’s most definitely not frowned upon!

  2. Nearly all hard or aged cheeses (including Dutch cheeses) do NOT contain lactose. 98% of the lactose is drained out with the whey and the remaining 2% is consumed in the fermentation process.
    There are many options for those who are lactose intolerant and that includes a good range of lactose free (not to be confused with soy) dairy products, chocolate spreads, etc.
    Also, not every Dutch family has chocolate sprinkles included in their breakfast routine, similar to the UK. Not everyone has a full English for breakfast!
    This Dutch mum of a child with a severe lactose intolerance does not see the challenge or dilemma.

  3. I wonder if this article has been written a little “tongue in cheek”?
    Firstly let me say that I moved here from Australia in 2014.
    Yes, the Dutch people are very proud of a lot of things and rightly so! One thing that they
    can be proud of is how tolerant of, and helpful to, people from other countries and cultures.
    The average Dutch man/woman/child in the street may seem to not want anything to do
    with us, but that’s not how it is. They simply mind their own business until they are either
    approached for help or it is obvious that someone is needing help. It has been my
    experience that the Dutch are very kind and understanding about most things, and a lot
    of what is written has been for comedic effect or to enhance the story of the people telling
    If you are lactose intolerant, simply go to a cheese shop (there are many) or delicatessen and
    ask for help. Before you come to The Netherlands, do your homework and find out via the internet
    what is available. Make an appointment with a huisarts (Doctor) when you are here, if it is for an extended period, and he/she will be most willing to help you or direct you to someone who can.
    It has also been my experience that Dutch people eat just as normally or otherwise as any other culture. For breakfast, some have the meal mentioned above, some have museli, fruit, yoghurt, toasted bread, fresh bread, eggs, ham, mushrooms, tomatoes, or whatever, just as we do in Australia, England or France. Some people are healthy, some are not. Just as we are or not in other countries. Use your common sense and don’t believe silly, exaggerated articles and make fun of others, particularly when they really are kind and helpful, if respected.


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