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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.