Hooked on Cheese: Monterey Jack

This grocery store staple is incredibly versatile

Jack cheese sometimes gets overlooked for Cheddar, but if you’re going to melt your cheese, go with Jack.

This is the third Hooked on Cheese column in our multi-part series focusing on “grocery store cheeses.” Great cheese doesn’t have to be pricey and difficult to obtain; there are many excellent options that can be found at your average grocery store. Raymond will be featuring his favorite cheeses that are readily accessible no matter where you are or what your budget.

Sliced, pre-sliced, grated, cubed, shredded, in chunks, on sandwiches, on tacos, as an ingredient in prepared dishes — I found Monterey Jack in all these forms at just one grocery store last week. Jack is everywhere. I know my favorite sports pub uses it in their amazing nachos, while a fantastic brunch place down my block makes a mean “Eggs Monterey,” a Jack-cheese-smothered vegetarian version of Eggs Benedict. And I’m not even going to begin enumerating the uses of pepper jack, Monterey’s spicy friend. Jack is even partnered with Cheddar in another form (Cheddar Jack) as well as Colby-style cheese (Colby Jack).

As for the history of this mild cow’s milk cheese, one story goes that it was made by monks near Monterey, Calif., while another claims it was developed by a guy named Jack. Ultimately, who knows… and who cares? This cheese is mellow, creamy, and most highly valued for its melting qualities. It is always sold young — usually aged only a month or so. Some cheese folks use the term “truck aged” to describe Jack’s aging process, meaning it’s only aged for the time it takes to be shipped from the producer to your local grocery store. It is produced in 40-pound blocks, just like commodity Cheddar cheeses.

To write about this “grocery store cheese,” I walked to the closest store (a corner bodega) to pick up whatever brand they happened to carry. I bought a pound of Boar’s Head Brand Monterey Jack, half sliced and half as a chunk. I was determined to have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner that day, which turned out to be a shockingly easy thing to accomplish! I first added a wee bit of shredded Jack to my scrambled eggs to make them richer. Then I melted a slice and a half on my veggie burger for lunch — classic. Finally, I made a simple broccoli-and-rice casserole for dinner that I blanketed with shredded Jack that melted into a beautiful toasty brown crust. I got so into the Monterey mood that the next morning I even added some to my breakfast quesadilla! This cheese is so versatile that I could have kept going, meal after meal.

Jack cheese sometimes gets overlooked for Cheddar, but for my money, if you’re going to melt your cheese, go with Jack.

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You can follow Raymond's cheese adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and his website. Additional reporting by Madeleine James.