What is Monterey Jack Cheese?

Mary McMahon

Monterey Jack cheese is a cheese which originated along the central California coast, and has since spread throughout the United States. It is one of the few cheeses which can rightfully be called “American,” since it was developed in the United States, although it certainly owes inspiration to European cheeses. Two versions of these cheese are available, a fresh one and a version called dry Jack, which tends to pop up only in specialty shops. A variant, Sonoma Jack, comes from Sonoma County, California.

Monterey jack cheese originated along the central California coast.
Monterey jack cheese originated along the central California coast.

Although Monterey Jack is an American cheese, it was developed before California entered the Union, and it actually has a long and colorful history. Franciscan monks in monasteries around the Monterey region first started making the cheese in the 1700s, creating a cheese which is aged only briefly before being served. The cow's milk cheese is semi-firm with a creamy, mild flavor and a high moisture content. Mexican and Spanish inspired cuisine in California often uses Monterey Jack, and the cheese also melts very well, making it quite suitable for grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monterey Jack cheese is made from cow's milk.
Monterey Jack cheese is made from cow's milk.

In the late 1800s, an entrepreneur named David Jack realized that a commercial market for the cheese might exist, and he started selling it in other parts of California. The cheese acquired the name “Monterey Jack's” or “Jack's Monterey,” which later evolved into the current name. Since the cheese is highly versatile, it quickly became a popular seller. Other dairies around California and elsewhere in the United States also began producing this cheese, although some consumers prefer the cheese from Monterey county.

Milk, which is used to make Monterey Jack cheese.
Milk, which is used to make Monterey Jack cheese.

There are a number of variations on the classic Monterey Jack cheese. Some producers add herbs or hot peppers to make herbed Jack or pepper Jack cheeses. This cheese is also sometimes blended with Colby, another mild American cheese, to make Colby Jack. One of the most coveted varieties of Monterey Jack is dry Jack, an aged version of the cheese which can be difficult to find outside of California. Dry Jack acquires a much more complex, sharp flavor and it turns hard enough to be grated and used like Parmesan.

There are numerous variations on mild Monterey Jack cheese.
There are numerous variations on mild Monterey Jack cheese.

When seeking out Monterey Jack cheese, look for a smooth, evenly colored specimen without signs of cracking or discoloration. The young cheese is somewhat perishable, so it should be used quickly. Dry Jack is more shelf stable, when it can be obtained, and the unique cheese is well worth experiencing, should an opportunity present itself.

Monterey Jack is one of the few truly American cheeses.
Monterey Jack is one of the few truly American cheeses.

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Discussion Comments


Well, I was born and raised here in California. In fact my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were, too. I love Monterey Jack cheese, and my only problem with the boutique varieties is that they are too smooth.

In my humble opinion. the best Monterey Jack cheese is a little curdy and crumbly. It's more tasty that way, too.


You know, it seems like a lot of good foods were created by monks! Not only did monks create dry Monterey Jack cheese, from what I remember, monks in France created champagne. I love both Monterey Jack cheese and champagne, so I guess I have monks to think for two of my favorite things!

Monterey Jack cheese and champagne don't go very well together though. My favorite Monterey Jack cheese recipe is Monterey Jack chicken, and in my opinion, that goes much better with a beer than a glass of champagne!


@JessicaLynn - I think American cheese is all right, but it definitely pales in comparison to other kinds of cheeses available. Until I read this article, I thought this was the only kind of cheese that actually originated here in the United States. I usually think of cheese as a European thing!

Even though I didn't know it was an American cheese, I've always made a lot of Monterey Jack recipes. Monterey Jack goes great on almost everything, I think. I usually use it if I'm going to make broccoli and cheese, or quesadillas, or something like tacos. It's a very versatile cheese.


I love shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Actually, I love it as a sliced cheese also. However, I don't love American cheese. I think it's gross and over-processed. Now that I know that Monterey Jack cheese originated here in the United States, I wish that it was called American cheese instead!

Anyway, I don't live in California, so I've never gotten to try Dry Jack cheese, but I would really like to. I'm a huge fan of most cheeses (except American) and Dry Jack sounds delicious. If I ever make it out to California, I'm going to make a point to try it!


I found this elsewhere. Substitutions: muenster, gouda, bel paese, samsoe


What does it taste like and what could be substituted for it in a recipe if one lives in another (Jackless) part of the world?

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