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Regional Cheese Cuisine: Monterey Jack


Join intern Virginia on her journey to discover how different regions of the US use local cheeses to improve local cuisine. From Vermont cheddar to Wisconsin colby and on to California Monterey jack, she’ll hit the iconic cheese destinations of America and introduce you to regional delicacies and recipes along the way. If you missed it, don’t forget to read last week’s post on Utah Funeral Potatoes.


This week on Regional Cheese Cuisine we head to our final destination, the Pacific West to take a look at the ever popular, ever melty and gooey Monterey jack cheese. Its name is an homage to its origin and the man who made it popular and is one of the very few cheeses that originate in the United States. 

Monterey Jack is a semi-soft cheese that melts easily and is often flavored. Cow’s milk gives it a light yellow color and the smooth texture that is perfect for melting. 

History 

Monterey jack cheese can truly lay claim to being one of America’s original cheeses. The cheese started as a simple way for Mexican Franciscan friars in Monterey, California to feed themselves and make a little money in the late eighteenth century. The cheese they produced was semi-firm, creamy, mild flavored cheese from cow’s milk which they shortly aged.  The production of the cheese was mostly localized by the friars for many years until the twentieth century. While the cheese was commonplace in the area, the name of the cheese went through several changes.

One of the first mentioning of the cheese outside of the monastery was made in book keeping records by The Curtis and Conover Store in 1859. The records state, “A.W. Billings shipped out five boxes of cheese on August 27, 1859 and paid $1 to have them hauled to the wharf and shipped.” His actions were repeated over several months. “Two other people were also shipping cheese at the same time as Mr. Billings. I. Shaw shipped cheese by schooner in September, 1859, and Miguel Allen (of the Boronda family) bought ‘1 cheese hoop’ for $2.” These records show the movement of the cheese that was presumed to be made only for local consumption. 

 Dona Juana Cota de Boronda was known to have manufactured and sold what she called “Queso del Pais” door-to-door in her area, making it cheese ever more popular. Donna, her crippled husband and 15 children all lived just outside the remains of an old cheese factory and utilized what she could salvage from the equipment to produce the cheese. 

Some claim that the addition of ‘jack’ to Monterey jack comes from Domingo Pedrazzi, of Carmel Valley. He created a cheese that required “the application of pressure” and named it “Del Monte Cheese.” The pressure was applied with a device called a “house jack” hence, jack cheese and manufactured it through the 1950’s to the ever growing California demand. 

The last in the line of ownership for the cheeses’s name and popularity belongs to David Jacks, a business man who brought together all the ideas of those before him and capitalized on the regional cheese. supposably with the help of Swiss and Portuguese investors he purchased 60,000 acres of prime land and  14 dairy ranches where he upscaled the cheese operation and stole the idea of  “Queso del Pais”. To make the product his own, he renamed the cheese, “Jacks’ Cheese” but had to change the name shortly there after because customers kept asking for the cheese made by “Monterey Jack.”

The name wasn’t official until October 5, 1955 when the Monterey Peninsula Herald gave the official sanctioned title by  the Food and Drug Administration of The United States of America. 

Distinguished Creameries 

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Schoch Family Farmstead

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Schoch Family Farmstead

The Schoch Family Farmstead has been small batch cheeses since 1944 when they were founded. All the cheese they produce is handcrafted, made in small batches from raw milk, is naturally ruined and aged to perfection. Today, Schoch Dairy is one of only a few family dairies remaining in Monterey County.  Milking less than 80 purebred Holstein cows, the Schoch family have held true to their commitment to “quality over quantity”. Their authentic Monterey Jack is “rugged and robust”. 

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Good Cheap Eats

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Good Cheap Eats

Rumiano Cheese Company is California’s oldest family-owned cheese company and their Monterey Jack has won several awards including first place for their Dry Jack at the 2014 American Cheese Society Award Winning Cheeses. Along with a variety of cheddars and organic cheeses they specialized in flavored Jacks which include dry, garlic, habinaro, jalepeno pepper, light, Mediterranean Sicilian, original, peppato and smoked dry. 

Recipes 

Pepper Jack and Bacon Grilled Cheese 

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Joyful Reviews and Giveaways

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Joyful Reviews and Giveaways

The smooth kick of the pepper jack melts perfectly with smokey bacon for a new take on grilled cheese. 

Grilled Brussels and Monterey Quesadillas

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Kim Denne

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Kim Denne

Brussels sprouts in a quesadilla? Absolutely.  The smooth melt of the Monterey Jack and the sprouts blend well together in a new and surprising way. 

Buttery Monterey Jack Cookies with Pepper and Cocoa

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Deb Ryan

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Deb Ryan

Cheese and cookies has never tasted so good in these creamy cookies. The melty cheese holds the cookies together; creating a spurse for any guest.

 Plantain Chip Nachos with Grilled Corn, Monterey Jack, & Cotija

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Monica Byrne

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Monica Byrne

What better way to show off a melty cheese than with nachos! Try this unique version that uses plantain chips instead of tortilla chips. 

Giveaway 

This week’s question: What is your favorite flavor of Monterey Jack? Post your answer in the comments section by Wednesday, December 3, 2014 for a chance to win a FREE issue of culture magazine! You must be located within the continental US to be eligible to win. Good luck!

Moss, Wendy. The “True” Story of Monterey Jack Cheese, The Monterey County Historical Society. 
Rumiano Cheese Company 
Schoch Family Farmstead 
Trex, Ethan. How 8 Famous Cheeses Got Their Names, mental_floss. 
Photo Credit: Featured image courtesy of Farm Dale 
 

Virginia Hyde

Virginia Hyde is a southern girl at heart who just moved to Boston to submerge herself in food - mainly cheese, to be honest. Game for any food-related adventure, festival, or gathering, she is ready to share her passion for cheese with others. Virginia is currently working on a Masters in Gastronomy at Boston University.

One thought on “Regional Cheese Cuisine: Monterey Jack”

  1. Avatar Jessica says:

    Just got to try the Vella Dry Jack for the first time this week. Those cookies look yum!

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