Monterey Jack is a semi-hard, cow’s milk cheese. Its mild flavor and gooey-when-melted texture make Monterey Jack an excellent match for sandwiches and spicy Latin American dishes.
Cheese folklore traces Monterey Jack’s lineage back to the farmers cheeses that fed Caesar’s army. A version of this was brought to California via Spain by the Franciscans.
This cheese was being made around Monterey when a Scot named David Jacks conned his way into ownership of much of the Monterey Peninsula in the middle of the 1800s. According to one version, Jacks later invested in dairy and to make use of milk surpluses he started making a simple cheese based on the one the Franciscans were making. The cheese, which Jacks shipped north to San Francisco, became known as “Jack’s Cheese” and, later, “Monterey Jack”. (Now, you sometimes see Monterey Jack called Sonoma Jack or California Jack.)
According to another version of the cheese’s provenance, a Spanish woman named Dona Joana Cota de Boronda sold cheese door-to-door in Monterey. She used a press, or “jack”, to expunge the whey from the cheese and form the bricks of curd. Boronda’s property eventually fell into Jacks’ hands, which means that a more accurate box stamping would have been “Jack’s Jack Cheese” or “Monterey Jack Jack”.
Today, you can find Monterey Jack at almost every grocery store. You may also find varieties mixed with herbs or hot peppers. You will have to look a little harder for the aged version, Dry Jack, which is hard like Parmesan and has a tangier, nuttier flavor than young Jack. Order Dry Jack by the wheel from California’s Vella Cheese.