Monterey Jack: A True American Cheese

Monterey Jack or sometimes shortened to Jack, is a semi-hard cheese from Mexico which is customarily white and is made using cow’s milk. It is commonly used in cooking because it melts beautifully and has a mild flavor, making it an ideal base for other flavors. Let us know more about Monterey Jack’s history and characteristics.




History of Monterey Jack Cheese

There has been an ongoing debate for more than half a century over who actually created Monterey Jack Cheese. Based on one story, Spanish missionaries came in California in the 1700’s and created a cheese called “queso de pais” which means country cheese. After the Spanish missionaries have gone, the local farmers in California continued to make the cheese and it later evolved into a product which is similar to the Jack we know today. By the 1800’s, “queso de pais” became a well-known and widely accepted local product.

Another story of the history of Monterey Jack was about Domingo Pedrazzi from Carmel Valley in Monterey County, California. Based on the story, Pedrazzi’s cheese needed an application of pressure which he was able to accomplish using a device called a “housejack”. With this story, it’s easy to see how the name of the device was shortened to result in the name of the cheese.

There were also stories of Dona Juana Cota de Boronda, an enterprising woman who began selling what would become known as Jack cheese door-to-door after her husband met an accident and left him incapacitated, making her the sole support of her family.

However, those tales are just part of the legend. What is known is in 1882, a Scottish immigrant named David Jacks began shipping queso de pais from his dairies and branded it with his last name and its city of origin, Monterey. Along the line, the “s” in his last name was dropped and people began asking for “Monterey Jack”, which was the name made official by the FDA in 1995.

Based on the California Milk Advisory Board, Monterey Jack is the most popular cheese that was invented in the United States. Today, there are more than 50 cheesemakers in California and more than one-third of them product at least one type of Jack. With its popularity, it is also being made outside of California, in states from Vermont to New York to Wisconsin.

No matter which of the stories were true about the history of Monterey Jack, it is still a popular and delicious semisoft cheese that can be served as a snack or part of a main course.

Characteristics of Monterey Jack Cheese

Monterey Jack is a semisoft cheese with an ivory to pale yellow color. Its flavor is similar to American muenster. Monterey Jack comes in two variants which are the Dry Jack and the Pepper Jack.

The Dry Jack or Dry Monterey Jack is an aged version of the cheese. It can be grated and used just like Parmesan cheese. It was accidentally created in 1915 when a San Francisco cheese wholesaler stored and forgot several wheels of fresh Jack cheese. When he rediscovered the stored Jack, it had become a well-aged hard cheese and his customers found it as a good substitute for the classic and age hard cheeses like Parmesan.

Pepper Jack on the other hand is a derivative of Monterey Jack which is flavored with spicy chili peppers and other different peppers and herbs. It is usually used as a substitute to regular Jack cheese in dishes like quesadillas. It can also be eaten with bread or crackers as a snack or as part of an hors d’oeuvre. Aside from the two popular variants, there are also other versions of Monterey Jack that are flavored with garlic or pesto but they are less common.

Monterey Jack is also known to be low in tyramine, a compound that is thought to be associated with headaches, making it recommended for those who suffer from migraines.

If you’re thinking of what drink pairings are great with Monterey Jack, it can go well with Pinot Noir and Riesling.

Monterey Jack is indeed a true American cheese and if you still haven’t tried it, it is available across all grocery stores and supermarkets in the United States.