July 17

Monterey Jack Cheese – A Comprehensive Guide

Written by: Caitlin Clark

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One of the few globally admired American cheeses, Monterey Jack was first widely sold by a Californian businessman in the 18th century. It subsequently spread across the United States and then worldwide, giving rise to several well-known offshoots such as Pepper Jack and Colby Jack. Today, the California Milk Advisory Board rates it as the most popular style of cheese invented in the United States.

If you're a long time fan of Monterey Jack cheese, or just learning about it, we are here to help you navigate the ins and outs of this favorite American classic. 

Enjoy!

What is Monterey Jack Cheese?


This pale, creamy cow’s milk cheese is semi-firm and easy-melting. Its short aging period results in an exceedingly mild flavor that compliments many other foods.

Originally it was made in the early 18th century in Monterey, California, by Franciscan friars, and got it's name after being sold commercially for the first time by David Jack

How is Monterey Jack Cheese Made?


Cheesemakers first acidify pasteurized cow’s milk with lactic acid bacteria. The next step involves solidifying the milk with rennet to create a fragile curd which is cut and gently cooked in water (instead of whey, resulting in its mild flavor).

Curds are partially drained and salted to enhance their flavor, then molded and pressed. Finally, the young cheese ages for as little as two weeks (for a grocery store version of Monterey Jack) to several months or even years (for Dry Jack)!

Monterey Jack's ultimate firmness, texture, color, and sharpness depend upon how long it has been aged.

Different Kinds of Monterey Jack Cheese


Young (standard) Monterey Jack

This is the easy-melting, thin-slicing variety that you’ll find in most grocery stores. Although it's semi-hard, it should be moist enough that you can easily leave an impression with your finger. The aging period for standard Monterey Jack is typically two to four weeks. 

Dry Jack

Dry Jack is prepared like any other Monterey Jack cheese but is left to age for several months--in some cases, up to four years! During the long aging time, it develops an assertive, nutty flavor and a crumbly texture. Very unlike the young version, Dry Jack is more comparable to Parmesan. Do not choose Dry Jack for recipes that call for Monterey Jack. 

Pepper Jack 

A derivative of young Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack has a mixture of herbs, spices, and peppers (usually jalapeno) mixed into the curd. This melange of flavors typically includes garlic, rosemary, and spicy peppers.

Monterey Jack Cheese Substitutes


  • Colby: Despite its orange color (from annatto), Colby’s texture and properties are very similar to those of Monterey Jack; in fact, the production process for these two cheeses is nearly identical. The annatto confers a golden color and nutty flavor on Colby. In recipes, the two cheeses are interchangeable. 
  • Colby Jack: This is simply a mixture of Colby and Monterey Jack curds pressed together. They look attractive side by side, and their textures are so similar that they blend seamlessly!
  • Cheddar: With a slightly lower moisture level and a much sharper taste than Monterey Jack, Cheddar may overpower some ingredients. Because it melts and grates similarly, it will substitute well in most recipes, especially if you can find a mild cheddar. 

What Does Monterey Jack Cheese Taste Like?


Mild, buttery and slightly sweet with low bitterness and gentle acidity, Monterey Jack is often valued more for its functional properties than for its flavor. With its creamy texture and even melting profile, it acts as a starring ingredient in casseroles and hot sandwiches.

Monterey Jack Cheese Pairings


How To Use Monterey Jack Cheese

Monterey Jack holds its own on a cheese tray, but it is more commonly found as a base for any baked, cooked, or melted dish. From quesadillas to casseroles, Monterey Jack shines by melting evenly and browning beautifully, all without overshadowing other flavors. It is widely used as a melting cheese in burritos, cheeseburgers, grilled-cheese sandwiches and even some pasta dishes. 

What Goes Well with Monterey Jack Cheese

Due to its mild flavor, Monterey Jack is incredibly flexible as a pairing partner. In recipes, it is often used alongside savory spices and ingredients. On a cheese tray, try it with fresh fruits and crisp white wine. Lots of Mexican dishes can be complimented by a nice Monterey Jack as well.  

If you're a wine lover looking to pair Monterey Jack, try a syrah, merlot, zinfandel, or a cabernet sauvignon. 

Best Monterey Jack Cheese Brands


Applegate and Tillamook are two brands of Monterey Jack available in most grocery stores and online retailers. Both brands are recommended by professional tasters and perform well on cheese trays or as recipe ingredients. On top of that, they are easy to find and priced for accessibility. 

Where to Buy Monterey Jack Cheese


As one of the most popular American cheese styles, Monterey Jack is available in every grocery store cheese aisle. If you are interested in a higher-quality version or a Dry Jack, amazon.com or igourmet.com are always safe bets to find something special. 

How Long Does Monterey Jack Cheese Last?


Shredded Monterey Jack will stay in good condition for at least a week if you re-seal the package each time you use it. However, for an even longer shelf-life, purchase Monterey Jack in slices or block form. Blocks or pieces will last up to a month in the refrigerator if packaged correctly in cheese paper or a resealable bag. If mold appears, simply cut it away and re-package the cheese.

How to Make Monterey Jack Cheese


Monterey Jack is an excellent choice for a beginning cheesemaker to try their hand at a pressed cheese. Check out these instructions from cheesemaking.com to make it at home.

Monterey Jack Cheese Nutrition


In 100g (about a cup, shredded) of Monterey Jack cheese, you can expect approximately 375 calories, 30g of fat, and 24g of protein. 

Concluding


Monterey Jack cheese is a real winner in our book. It's mild, yet slightly sweet, with an extreme versatility in the kitchen. It is truly a world-renowned favorite, and for good reason.  

We hope you enjoyed this comprehensive article on Monterey Jack cheese. Let us know if you have any suggestions, questions or comments.

Cheers!

Caitlin


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About the author

Caitlin is a Ph.D student and chocolate researcher at Colorado State University. Her research in the Food Science program focuses on chocolate fermentation (that’s right, it’s a fermented food!) and small-batch post-harvest processing techniques. When she is not acting in her capacity as resident chocolate guru, she researches other fermented foods and beverages like beer, sausage, and natto. Caitlin was drawn to fermented foods while living in rural Spain for six years, where she was exposed to traditional, time-honored practices of food preservation. At home, she practices Bollywood dance for fun and is followed everywhere by two small pet rabbits.

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