Pairing Wine With Monterey Jack Cheese

Pairing Wine With Monterey Jack Cheese

By Bob Lipinski

Monterey Jack, a cow’s milk cheese, was developed in the 1880s in Monterey by a Scot merchant named David Jacks. He derived the name, “Monterey Jack,” from the shipping point, Monterey and his last name, Jacks, minus the “s.” There are however, several other versions as to the origin of Monterey Jack cheese.

Although the cheese was first developed and sold in Monterey, it is now produced in several other states and with variations from dairy-to-dairy.

Most Monterey Jack has an inedible rind, often black in color. The rind is sometimes coated with a mixture of oil, pepper, and cocoa. It generally has a pale yellow-orange interior with numerous small holes. It is rectangular or wheel-shaped, depending on the preference of the dairy.

The cheese has a sweet, nutty flavor with a tart aftertaste, similar to Cheddar. When old, the taste becomes sharp and tangy. It is sometimes flavored with caraway seeds, dill, fennel, or jalapeño peppers. It has a semi-hard texture and when labeled “Dry Jack,” it is a hard, tangy cheese suitable for grating,

Dry Jack cheese is Monterey Jack that has been aged 6 to 9 months or longer. It came into existence during World War I, when San Francisco cheese wholesaler, D.F. DeBernardi found his Monterey Jack cheese had aged too long and “gone hard.” Italian immigrants immediately found it useful because it could be grated like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino.

Monterey Jack is also called Sonoma Jack (brand-name) California Jack, or Jack.

Monterey Jack can be paired with Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel, and of course Cabernet Sauvignon. Four California wines I recently tasted would pair quite well with a wedge of Monterey Jack. My tasting notes follow:

2010 Mayacamas, “Mt. Veeder” Cabernet Sauvignon: (blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot; aged 36 months in oak) Full bouquet with flavors of dried berries, herbs, black currants, dill, and coffee. Full-bodied, tannic, and still quite youthful.

2012 Inglenook “Cask” Rutherford, Cabernet Sauvignon: (blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet France, 3% Merlot; aged 18 months in oak). Dark-colored with a bouquet brimming with berries (blackberry and blueberry), black cherries, and black currants. Layers of fruit; great depth of flavor with plenty of acidity.

2013 Hourglass “Blueline Estate” Merlot, Calistoga: (blend of 84% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec; aged 2 to 3 years in oak). Deepest color, very fruity with hints of plums, chocolate, and spices. Quite smooth and elegant with toasted oak on the finish.

2012 Snowden “The Ranch” Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon: (blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14%Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot; aged 18 months in oak). Great depth of color; Fruity and powerful with a certain sweetness; concentrated flavors and very complex with overtones of dark chocolate, oak, and black currants.

Bob Lipinski, author of 10 books; writes, consults, and conducts training seminars on Wine, Spirits, and Food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at OR

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