Lactose-Free Mac & Cheese

OK — that just sounds gross but I wanted to be precise. It’s not dairy-free or vegan because I use lactose-free milk. I was going to do “cold weather casseroles” a lot sooner but a small injury has slowed me down. I’m back on my feet, sort of, but only enough for quick recipes and this was what I was in the mood for.

One of the dishes I feel most deprived about missing out on now that I know that I have zero tolerance for lactose (even with the pills), is macaroni and cheese. I don’t like any of the boxed, dairy-free mac and cheeses although Annie’s makes an OK frozen one, it still includes some milk protein and is far from delicious.

I was forced to create my own recipe which I share with you here. This is just one variation on a bunch of things you can do once you have the basic white sauce and bottle of dry cooking sherry. The others include my renowned tuna noodle casserole. Stay tuned for that one at a later date!

My Own Best Lactose-Free Mac N Cheese


16 ounces of large shells (one box or bag, usually)
8 ounces of two different kinds of vegan cheeses (see note below)
1 cup lactose-free milk — whole or 2%
2 tablespoons Earth Balance
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons dry cooking sherry
salt and cayenne pepper to taste
6 ounces frozen peas and onions (optional)

This is a one pot recipe, unless you decide to get fancy and bake it afterwards with Panko crumbs sprinkled on top (highly recommended and possibly what I will do with my leftovers on day two). It’s also worth mentioning that this would be utterly delicious with real cheese and those of you less sensitive than I am to dairy could use very aged cheeses (which makes them basically lactose free) and/or hard cheeses (ditto) and get an amazing result. I am jealous of you!

Take your largest saucepan (this is mine) and boil big shells (my favorite because they hold more sauce) until just al dente — about one minute less than the box or bag recommends. This is particularly important if you are going to bake this after but it’s also a matter of taste. I don’t like mushy pasta.

Once the shells are draining in the sink, melt those 2 tablespoons of Earth Balance in that same saucepan. Use a reduced heat (assuming you were boiling on high) and add the flour and salt, and blend well. Once this is smooth, slowly mix in the milk. I use a fair amount of salt to balance the extra sweetness of the lactose-free milk. Once the milk is blended with the flour mixture, start adding cheese. The good news about vegan cheese is that since it’s NOT really cheese, you don’t have to grate it. Stir it till it’s all melted and then add sherry and cayenne to taste. (I use sherry in all my white sauces because it reminds me of lobster Newburg which was my favorite food before I could talk.)

At this point, I add about a half a bag of frozen peas and pearl onions because I like the taste and added texture but that is probably too white trash for words. Up to you! I wait till the peas are starting to thaw — about three minutes — toss in the shells and blend well.

About one minute later, dinner is served. Yes, it’s fancier to bake it at this point with some final “cheese” grated over the top and bread crumbs (Panko is even better! Crunchy!), but I’m not supposed to stand up for more than a few minutes at a time and I’m hungry!

“Bon ap” as the French say when they are alone at home (and hate when you say it!)

NOTE on Vegan “Cheese”: It’s not cheese, but you knew that. I use at least two different kinds and flavors to try to create some facsimile of cheese-like taste. Two I like are Vegan Rella cheddar (use it quick — it goes off almost immediately!) and Veggie Slices which never go bad — a la real American Cheese-food slices. Veggie Slices also make a reasonable grilled cheese but most everything is tasty once you grill it, don’t you find?

About bakingnotwriting

I'm a writer who is always baking! Or a baker who is always writing...No. Other way around.
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17 Responses to Lactose-Free Mac & Cheese

  1. linda witham says:

    Just to let you know my daughter is lactose intolerant and we just realized that a lot of block cheddar cheese from regular cheese sections are lactose free. Especially Cabot and Kraft sharp cheddars. FYI. We have been using the fake cheeses for no reason at all. It is the addition of rennet or something that kills the lactose……….real cheese for you and also Finlandia types at Deli are safe too.

    • You are so right that many real cheeses are lactose-free! Aged cheeses usually lose their lactose over time and many hard cheeses are naturally lactose-free as well. When I lived in LA, they used to sell a lactose-free real mozzarella at the grocery store and of course buffalo mozzarella — while expensive — has no lactose because it’s not from a cow. Your daughter might also like goat milk butter — I know people who swear by it. Unfortunately, I am so intolerant I can only do very small amounts of aged cheeses or even goat or sheep cheese. I have no idea why this is but it’s very disappointing to me since nothing is more delicious than a really old cheddar. Another item I have recently fell in love with that your daughter might like to try is lactose-free real yogurt. I discovered it in England and was thrilled to find it at my local market the other day since soy and other fake yogurts are just vile!

  2. Carla says:

    This sounds amazing!! I was wondering if the sauce would work with soy milk? I am so allergic to the milk protein that I can only have soy.

    • Can you have coconut milk? That’s my preferred fake milk these days — especially for mac and cheese. Use the thick kind the can. It’s super rich and has wonderfully creamy mouth feel. In a cheese-heavy recipe you won’t notice the coconut-yness — but make sure you get the unsweetened kind. Let me know how it works!

  3. Jim says:

    At what temperature do you bake it and for how long? I am wanting to make this for a good friend of mine that is lactose-intolerant, and wanted to bake it at the end. Thank you for this recipe.

    • Jim —

      So sorry to have omitted that important detail! I bake it at 350 till the top is bubbly and brown — which can take longer than I’d like with vegan cheese. Lately I have been using Daiya fake cheese with the best results I have ever seen. It even caramelizes and gets crunchy like real cheese! I’d say, depending how big you make it, bake it about 20 minutes and check. You want that melty, crispy, browness you get with cheese-based casseroles. Let me know how it turns out!

  4. Dru says:

    I think I love you! I just developed a lactose intolerance (or at least just realized it and have been in pain for years). I use to tell my mother I wanted to be a professional cheese taster when I grew up and ate butter on crackers. Needless to say I’ve been looking for a good mac and cheese recipe since its my all time favorite food and cannot wait to try this one. I think I will try to throw in some aged cheddar with the vegan cheeses since it only somewhat upsets my stomach πŸ™‚ THANK you for posting this and I can’t wait to check out some of your other recipes!

    • Thanks for the comment! Are you lactose-intolerant or is it the dairy? It’s worth doing an experiment to see if you can tolerate cheeses where the lactose is gone (typically very aged or hard cheeses). Sometimes goat or sheep cheeses won’t be a problem and many people with dairy problems can digest yoghurt (I can’t). Good luck and glad to have you as a reader!

      • Dru says:

        I think it’s a happy little mix of the two. It’s a lot worse with lactose then with aged cheese ( i never know if it’s quite aged enough- which can have bad results) but I generally try to suffer through it so I’m not completely depriving myself. All in all its definitely trial and error… Cabot cheese has been my life saver lately, they have a GREAT selection of lactose free cheeses and even have pepper jack!! All of their cheese says “0 grams of lactose” on the back which is very reassuring.

      • Aha! I will look for Cabot, though with me it’s more than just the lactose in cheese that gets me cuz I can drink lactose-free milk. If you can get it where you are, Green Valley organics makes lactose-free real sour cream and yoghurt that are just amazing from actual happy cows in Sonoma, CA.

      • Dru says:

        Green Valley Sour Cream is my FAVORITE right now. I’ve been putting that in my mashed potatoes and they come out amazing!! Think I might have to throw some of that in the mac and cheese (which I’m trying tonight).

  5. Dru says:

    Im also curious as to how unsweetened coconut milk would taste since I use that in a lot… also scared to screw it up though. No back up plan for the evening since pizza is out of the question haha!

  6. I love the baking not writing! Loving the recipe too πŸ˜€

  7. Looks delish! I wonder how it would turn out with coconut milk? I’ll have to try it! Celeste πŸ™‚

    • I like that super thick canned coconut milk when I do substitutions with it. It’s super yummy and doesn’t typically even taste of coconut when blended with other strong flavors (see my posts on gratin!). Let me know how it turns out! –E.

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