Every day, the crew at my (other) job is provided with a mid-afternoon snack. A couple of times a week, it's a cheese platter: always the same, pretty unexciting collection of chunked and cubed cheddar, brie, dill havarti, and a peculiar marbled orange and white cheese. And in one corner, atop a leaf or two of curly kale garnish, is the Pepper Jack. Even presented in this totally unclassy way, I can never seem to resist it.
And there may be no better time to sing the praises of this cheese than before a weekend of sports-watching and beer drinking. (At least that's what my days off are starting to look like.)Pepper Jack is what I like to call a "good-bad" cheese, meaning that though its quality or make-process may not be too refined, it's still delicious at the appropriate time and in the right place. Sometimes, it's just what you want. (And to clarify, in my language there is also such a thing as a "bad-bad" cheese.)
Simply put, Pepper Jack is Monterey Jack studded with chile peppers. Monterey Jack is one of the best melters around, and sometimes there's really no substitute for its buttery, mild flavor. Hey, plain Monterey Jack is kind of a guilty pleasure, come to think of it, too!
And so, a bit of history: In the 1890's, a Scotsman named David Jacks created Monterey Jack, near Monterey, California. It ages for only about a week. You may have also heard of Dry Jack, which is a version aged seven to ten months. Pepper Jack has jalepeños or habeneros mixed into the curd during its make. Not surprisingly, these peppery bits infuse throughout the cheese, intensifying one's cravings for icy beer or pub fare. Or both.
This weekend, or anytime, vary your usual repertoire and use Pepper Jack in place of Jack or cheddar in:
And in the meantime, don't feel bad about your guilty pleasures when it comes to food... more often than not, they're a confession worth making. (Or cooking.)
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant TV chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
Related: An Unexpected Superbowl Feast
(Image: Cabot Cheese)