Is Laughing Cow cheese real cheese?

Laughing Cow cheese is a popular soft cheese product sold around the world. It is recognizable by its distinctive packaging featuring the laughing cow character. But despite its widespread popularity, there is some debate around whether Laughing Cow should actually be considered real cheese.

In this in-depth article, we will examine the characteristics and production process of Laughing Cow cheese. We will compare it to more traditional cheese varieties and look at the legal definitions surrounding products labeled as “cheese”. By the end, you should have a clear understanding of whether Laughing Cow can rightly be called real cheese.

What is Laughing Cow cheese?

Laughing Cow cheese is a soft, spreadable cheese product first produced in France in the 1860s by the cheesemaker Jules Bel. The original French name for the cheese is La Vache Qui Rit, which translates to “the laughing cow”.

The cheese is sold in small, circular wedges weighing just under one ounce each. It has a soft, creamy texture and a mild, tangy flavor. Laughing Cow is made using a blend of cheese curds, milk proteins, milkfat, and emulsifying salts. It has a fat content around 25%.

Key characteristics of Laughing Cow cheese include:

– Soft, spreadable texture
– Individual wedge shape and packaging
– Mild, tangy flavor
– Creamy off-white color
– Around 25% milkfat content

Some of the most common varieties of Laughing Cow cheese include:

– Original
– Light
– Swiss
– Asiago
– Garden Veggie
– Queso Quesadilla

The cheese is an affordable option, with a small wedge retailing for around $1-2 in the United States. It is commonly used as a snack or an ingredient in cooking. The individual packaging makes Laughing Cow convenient for packing lunches or taking on the go.

Production process

Laughing Cow cheese is not made using the traditional processes used for most other cheeses. Natural cheeses are produced by adding rennet to milk to separate the curds from the whey, before pressing the curds to form a wheel or block of cheese.

In contrast, Laughing Cow uses a faster, less labor-intensive production method more akin to processed cheese products. Here are the basic steps:

– Milk is pasteurized to destroy any harmful bacteria.
– Starter cultures and enzymes are added to help develop flavor and texture.
– The milk mixture is heated and coagulated into soft cheese curds.
– The curds are drained and mixed with cream, salts, and emulsifiers.
– This cheesy mixture is then poured into the iconic small wedge molds.
– The wedges are wrapped in foil and packaged.

So while real cheese curds are formed through enzyme coagulation, the curds used in Laughing Cow undergo further processing with additives to create the final smooth, spreadable texture.

How does it compare to other cheeses?

To understand if Laughing Cow qualifies as real cheese, it helps to compare it to more traditional cheese varieties like cheddar, mozzarella and brie.


Most natural cheeses are made using just milk, rennet and salt. But Laughing Cow has additional ingredients like emulsifying salts, stabilizers and preservatives. These help create its smooth, spreadable texture and extend shelf life – but purists argue it makes Laughing Cow more processed.


The texture of Laughing Cow is very soft and spreadable. Traditional cheese curds knit together into a solid block or wheel. So Laughing Cow lacks the dense, sliceable texture of most natural cheeses. The processing creates a more processed cheese style texture.


The flavor of Laughing Cow is notably milder than most other cheeses. While cheddar, brie and other cheeses develop strong, complex flavors during aging, the light pasteurization used for Laughing Cow results in a subtler, less sharp taste.


Cheese is high in fat, protein, calcium and phosphorus. Laughing Cow has a similar nutritional profile to regular cheese, although the exact nutrients vary. Overall, the nutritional value of Laughing Cow is comparable to other cheeses.

So in summary, while Laughing Cow shares some attributes with cheese, the ingredients, texture and flavor are more indicative of a processed cheese product than a natural cheese. Next we’ll look at how legally-binding definitions categorize Laughing Cow.

Cheese definitions and regulations

Many regions have legal standards that define what can be labeled and sold as cheese. Do Laughing Cow wedges meet the criteria to be called cheese under these definitions?

United States

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has standards of identity for various food products, including natural cheeses like cheddar, Swiss and cream cheese. These have specific requirements:

– Made from dairy ingredients like milk, cream, whey and cheese cultures
– Contains at least 51% cheese curd by weight
– Moisture content limits based on the variety
– No emulsifiers, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives

Laughing Cow does not meet these legal standards due to the use of emulsifiers and milk proteins rather than curds. However, it is standardized as a “pasteurized process cheese product“. This allows the use of emulsifiers to create the smooth texture.

European Union

The EU’s legal definition also requires cheese to be produced using coagulated milk protein curds:

“Cheese means the fresh or matured product obtained by coagulating milk, cream, whey or buttermilk or any combination of these materials.”

Again, the lack of classical cheese curds used in Laughing Cow mean it does not fulfill the requirements to be labeled as cheese under EU law.

United Kingdom

In the UK, cheese products containing additives like emulsifying salts cannot legally go by the name cheese alone. They must be labeled with qualifiers indicating the presence of these non-dairy ingredients. Laughing Cow is sold as a “cheese spread” in the UK.


Interestingly, in Laughing Cow’s native France, there is no legal definition for cheese products. Therefore, Laughing Cow is considered cheese under French regulations. This highlights how definitions can vary significantly by region.

Overall, in most countries outside France, Laughing Cow cannot be classified as real cheese due to the use of dairy ingredients and additives not permitted in standardized cheese products.

Why isn’t Laughing Cow technically cheese?

Based on the production process, texture, flavor and legal definition comparisons, it is evident that Laughing Cow differs significantly from traditional cheese varieties. But why does it fail to meet the criteria as real cheese? There are a few key reasons behind this:

Lack of cheese curds

As we’ve discussed, real cheese must be made from curds produced through separating and coagulating milk. The curds knit together through fermentation and aging. Laughing Cow skips this step, using milk proteins and emulsifying salts instead to achieve the smooth, spreadable texture.

Additives and preservatives

Cheeses made without additional ingredients highlight the flavors developed through the cheesemaking process. Laughing Cow relies on salts, stabilizers and preservatives to alter the texture and extend shelf life. This results in a more processed product.

Shorter aging period

Most cheese varieties are aged for weeks or months to develop complexity. Laughing Cow undergoes very light pasteurization and minimal aging, leaving it with a milder taste. Faster production is more economical but less authentic.

Different production method

Laughing Cow uses a melted, emulsified production method that is closer to processed cheeses than natural cheeses. So it lacks characteristics like a defined rind and cheese crystal development seen in traditionally made cheese.

Should dairy products require curds to be called cheese?

Given that Laughing Cow doesn’t meet the legal cheese definitions in many regions, this raises the question – should curd coagulation be an essential requirement for products labeled as cheese?

There are good arguments on both sides:

YES – Cheese should require curds

– Upholds tradition and authenticity of cheesemaking
– Distinguishes “real” cheese from substitutes
– Provides clarity for consumers on what they are buying
– Ensures standards and quality

NO – Curds should not be essential

– Allows for innovation in developing new dairy products
– Recognizes some processed cheeses as legitimate
– Won’t confuse most consumers, who don’t expect curds
– Avoids overly restrictive regulations on foods

There are merits to both perspectives. Ultimately, it may come down to whether the goal is to protect tradition or encourage innovation in the dairy industry.

Regardless, clearer labeling could be a compromise. Terms like “cheese product” better inform consumers while still allowing for creativity.

What do experts say about Laughing Cow’s cheese status?

With the ongoing ambiguity around Laughing Cow’s classification, what do dairy experts and industry bodies have to say?


Traditional artisanal cheesemakers argue that Laughing Cow detracts from real cheese:

“It’s not actually cheese at all from a cheesemaker’s perspective…just a processed cheese-like product.” – Neal’s Yard Dairy

“There are no fully fledged cheesemakers involved.” – British Cheese Board

These opinions emphasize curds and cheesemaker craft in defining cheese. By these standards, Laughing Cow falls short.

Dairy associations

Industry groups like Dairy UK take a more flexible view:

“It includes ingredients like emulsifying salts…but it’s innovations like these that allow for the range of products we enjoy today.”

They argue Laughing Cow still delivers the essential dairy experience consumers expect. This view accommodates both tradition and innovation.

Food scientists

Food scientists highlight how Laughing Cow has adapted to modern needs:

“It meets consumer demands for convenience and shelf life without losing the essential cheese flavors.”

This perspective recognizes that strict traditionalism may excessively limit options for consumers.

The diversity of opinions on Laughing Cow underscores why it remains such a debated product even among dairy experts. There is merit in all these viewpoints, and room for nuance.

Is Laughing Cow cheese ultimately good or bad for the industry?

Laughing Cow has been an enormously successful product, but how has it impacted the cheese world?

Benefits of Laughing Cow

– Increased cheese consumption and appeal among consumers not attracted to traditional cheeses
– Provides an affordable cheese option with long shelf life and easy storage
– Versatile for cooking, spreading, dipping and melting
– Lower food waste due to individually wrapped portions
– Boosts profits and innovation for the dairy industry

Criticisms of Laughing Cow

– Promotes overly processed foods with long ingredients lists
– Marginalizes artisanal cheesemaking traditions and skills
– Misleads consumers on what ‘cheese’ means
– Hurts small cheese producers that make real cheese
– Environmental costs of plastic packaging waste

There are reasonable arguments that Laughing Cow has both benefited but potentially also undermined the dairy industry. Its success demonstrates the market power of innovation and meeting evolving consumer desires. But this must be balanced with preserving the legacy and integrity of traditional cheesemaking.

The verdict – is Laughing Cow real cheese?

After weighing all the evidence – here is the final verdict on whether Laughing Cow can rightly be considered real cheese:

Laughing Cow is not technically cheese, but rather a processed cheese product.

The key points supporting this conclusion are:

– It is not made using traditional cheese curds
– Contains emulsifiers and stabilizers not permitted in standardized cheese
– Uses a different production method than cheesemaking
– Has a texture and flavor more reminiscent of processed cheese spreads
– Does not meet most legal definitions of cheese around the world

However, there are a few caveats to note:

– It does contain real dairy ingredients like milk, cream and cheese cultures
– The manufacturing process uses some cheesemaking principles
– It delivers a cheesy flavor and can substitute for cheese in cooking
– In France, it is legally permitted to be labelled as cheese

So Laughing Cow certainly delivers an experience reminiscent of cheese. But based on the consensus of expert opinion and legal standards in most regions, it falls short of being true, authentic cheese.

The future of cheese products like Laughing Cow

While traditionalists aim to uphold cheesemaking techniques passed down for centuries, innovations like Laughing Cow have undoubtedly shaped the dairy aisle. This raises questions around what lies ahead for cheese-like products as eating habits continue evolving.

Several factors may influence the future manufacture and regulation of processed cheeses:

– Demand for greater transparency in food labeling
– Concerns around highly processed foods and additives
– Focus on sustainability and reducing plastic waste
– Renaissance of artisanal food production
– Innovation in dairy substitute products like plant-based and cell-cultured cheese
– Policy reform around definitions and standards

It remains to be seen whether these forces will spur a return to more traditional techniques, or if the convenience and accessibility of foods like Laughing Cow will maintain their appeal. But the debate around what constitutes ‘real cheese’ seems unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

The story of Laughing Cow offers fascinating insights into wider trends around food, technology and consumer appetites. While its cheese credentials remain questionable, this iconic brand will likely continue putting smiles on millions of faces well into the future.


Laughing Cow has cemented itself as one of the world’s most recognized cheese brands. However, there is significant evidence and expert consensus that it does not qualify as real, natural cheese. The use of processed dairy ingredients and additives aligns Laughing Cow more closely with processed cheese products. Its continued popularity demonstrates the market appeal of convenience, versatility and accessibility. But traditionalists argue it detracts from centuries-old cheesemaking traditions. The debate around how to classify hybrid foods like Laughing Cow reveals larger tensions around upholding standards versus promoting innovation in food production. But for the vast majority of consumers, the most important question remains simple: does Laughing Cow taste good?

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