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Aged Monterey Jack - who knew?

I'm generally a fan of strong cheeses (blues, aged goudas, the better triple cremes like Explorateur) and only occasionally buy monterey jack, mainly for melting on burritos and such. But I had an interesting experience yesterday - I found an unopened package of jack cheese in the fridge (Cabot brand, 10 oz shrink-wrapped stick) that I had bought a while back and forgotten about.

The "expiration date" on the package was February, so I'm guessing I must have bought it in December or January. I was going to toss it, but there was no visible mold, so I decided to cut into it and check it out first.

What a revelation! The biggest difference is in the texture - it has ripened into a semi-soft cheese, at room temperature actually spreadable. And the flavor has deepened, not in an "off" way, but somehow richer and more savory than any jack I've ever tasted. The only thing I can compare it to is a really soft Bom Petisco.

Has anyone else experienced this? I'm tempted to buy more and age it just to see if I can replicate this.

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  1. It's never happened to me due to the fact that we tend to totally empty the fridge for cleaning one every week or so plus I tend to wimp out and assume that anything past its sell by date is too dagerous to even try especially cheese (I've had to trow out so much expensive cheese that went bad long BEFORE it's sell by date that I tend to assume that anything that isn't still sealed in cryovac plastic has a lifespan of one or two days) Plus, our fridge is rather on the moist side so lost cheese is more likely to go moldy or racid than age.
    That being said there is prescedent for what happended to you. If you have ever read Steve Jenkins "The Cheese Primer" in the US section you will find mention of a cheese (mostly made on the west coast) called Teleme. This also starts as a more or less monetery jack like cheese, but when aged correctly turns into a fine semisoft or in this case (due to the higher fat content maybe) supersoft (a cheese that is basically liquid when ripe and is eaten by spooning or dipping) In fact, you may want to pick up the primer (you can find it in most bookstores, online and off), as there is a section where Jenkins gives step by step instruction on how to age Teleme which could be useful if you were trying to repeat on purpose what happened to you serendipitously. Another cheese similar migh be the Dutch Kernham ("Knife-sticker") which , according to legend , was created about 30 years ago when a cheemaker acidentally left a large batch of Roomkass (like gouda, but with added cream) curing at too high a temperature so that they turned into a flavorful semisoft that literally sticks to the knife (hence the name). hope something here is of use.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jumpingmonk

      I've had Teleme purchased from Murray's (although not in a very long time) in various stages of ripeness; when very ripe, it's scooped into containers. It's very nice when younger, too--very soft and the tiniest bit springy. Good stuff!

    2. Not with Jack but my dad used to send us aged Canadian Cheddar cheese - 5 or 7-yr-old - in 2 kg blocks and I have one of them aging further in the fridge (since Christmas 2002, he died in 2003). Apart from some slight surface molding it's in excellent shape. Saving it for a occasion yet to be determined. I have no compunctions about eating it, it's been kept cold its whole life. The oldest Cheddar I can remember eating was (store-aged) 20 yrs old - it gets softer and a bit grainier as it ages and is strong as hell but is delicious.
      I thought you were posting about dry Jack which is a cheese I wish were more widely available in the NY area, it's great on pasta and pretty much anywhere you'd use Parmesan.

      1. I had a Vermont Cheddar that was supposedly aged 12 years. It was way too much for me but they do age them for years. I've never had to throw out a hard cheese; just cut the mold off and eat it. But if it actually changed in consistency, texture and appearance, that might make me uneasy.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Shann

          I agree, this is unusual for a hard cheese - certainly I would not expect it of a cheddar, which gets stronger-flavored with age but stays a hard cheese. This jack's behavior is more like that of a brie, which is firm when fresh and softens as it ripens.

          1. re: BobB

            Just from the title of your post, I expected to read a description of aged, dry Jack, such as Vella's, and was surprised to hear of your experience. The brie-like texture is indeed like our Teleme once it has aged.

            Recently I had a raw milk jack that was aged as a wheel for more than 60 days and had a pebbly rind, made by Schoch Dairy of Salinas, California. The herd is purebred Holstein. This cheese had developed a richness and nutty nuances with a semi-soft texture that reminded me of Alpine cheeses. The cheesemonger who sold it to me said he had suggested that the name be changed to something else, as this cheese has little connection to what we think of as Jack cheese.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Interesing that it was Holstein, isn't their milk relatively low-fat? The cheese sounds lovely.

        2. For a real treat, try Vella Aged Jack. It's as comples as real Parm. You can order it grated and it's so dry that you don't have to refrigerate it. Great stuff to have on hand!

          1 Reply
          1. re: pikawicca

            Vella Dry Jack is one of America's great cheeses.

          2. I make my own cheese here at the dairy and seal it with a Game Pro. In order to sell it raw milk cheese must age for 6 months. I have not mastered the art and it is an art:)
            Just opened one last week that tasted quite like Havarti. Thanks for the post it will help me keep trying,

            2 Replies
            1. re: JustScattin2

              I thought the minimum aging time for raw milk cheese was 60 days.

            2. That's never happen to me but I wanted to let you know that you don't have to toss a moldy
              cheese (unless it's pink) Just trim the mold off the the cheese which is really mold anyway and eat. If you are worried about bacteria use it in melted cheese sandwiches.

              11 Replies
              1. re: spm

                Yes! Let's stop the insanity and save a few dozen hunks of deliciousness from a trashcan-dwelling fate. Cheeses are incredibly nuanced, and artisan cheese makers dedicate immense time and resources to cultivating just the right strains of bacteria--yes, bacteria--to deliver the perfect union of flavors, textures, and aesthetics to their creation. Blue or white "growths" on most cheeses should not be cause for concern. Sadly, however, retailers are often forced to trash cheeses (that are likely just reaching their peak of tastiness) because customers are weary of a little blue or a little squishiness. For all cheesehounds, I suggest checking out the websites of two amazing American artisans, Cypress Grove Chevre and Vermont Butter and Cheese Company: http://www.cypressgrovechevre.com/ and http://www.vermontcreamery.com/

                So good!!

                1. re: Morgan Crumm

                  I could be misinformed but I think Cypress Grove at least sometimes uses frozen milk and I believe some of their stuff is made in the Netherlands. Goat milk isn't supposed to freeze well so I don't know how true that claim is.

                  1. re: MacGuffin

                    I think that all of the Gouda-like Cypress Grove cheeses (like Lamb Chopper and Midnight Moon) are made in Holland, they decied that if they were going to make a good goat Gouda they might as well have the Dutch (who are well versed in making goat goudas) in charge of the thing. As for the frozen thing, your right goats milk doesnt freeze well, but goat's milk curd does. Frozen goat curd is the backbone of a lot of the industriel goat cheese production of many of the big cheese factories in France. It pretty much the only way to allow them to make cheese year round. Several factory goat cheeses (Bucheron for example) are ALWAYS made of frozen curd, as are pretty much all fresh (non aged) goat cheeses made during the winter (when there isn't a lot of goat's milk around).

                    1. re: jumpingmonk

                      Thanks for making the distinction; it occurred to me after I'd posted and you confirmed it. It seems they've come a long way since the days when they weren't doing much more than Humboldt Fog.

                      1. re: MacGuffin

                        Your welcome, though looking at what I wrote, I should have remembered that Lamb Chopper is actually a SHEEP Gouda (which is actually even more unusual as to my knowedge, the dutch don't have a big sheep cheese industry) hence the name (just as well is is as "Kid Chopper brings up a lot of very distrubing mental images)
                        BTW since you seem to be fond of goat cheese mentioned you have gotten cheese a Murray's (which I take to indicate that you like me are in the Lower New York/Mantattan area, or at least have acess to it) Next time you are there make a point of trying the Cayuga Blue (if you haven't already). It probably the most interesting goat cheese I've had in ages, a raw goats milk blue cheese that combines the zip of a good blue, the tang of a feta, and a certing intoxicating pepperiness that only seems to come from a good well aged raw goat. Ive been addicated to the stuff ever since my colledge days up at Cornell (where it was avialable at the local co-op as it was practically a local product along with an absoutely incredible hard sheep cheese that Murrays regrettably does not carry) Just taste before you buy, as its flavor may not be for everyone (plus no blame to Murrays, but there can be a big problem with wheels of the stuff coming in either too young (at which point it's a little bland and basically taste like only feta) or too old (when it can get rather musty and bitter) There also a great Austrian or German firm washed rind goat they get sometimes (can't remember the name exactly but it begins with a "z" and comes in discs about the size of a beverage coaster but thicker) that is worth trying (To me it tastes sort of like a goat version of Swiss Tete du Moine)

                        1. re: jumpingmonk

                          Oh, I'm familiar with Cayuga Blue--I tried it at Saxelby (Anne's a buddy) although I haven't had any this year. Nice stuff! And have you tried Gordawnzola and Ewe's Blue? Wonderful! And speaking of Lamb Chopper, Fairway had it on special a 1+ years ago or so for $10/lb! Amazingly, it was an excellent batch, too. It was around for a while and I bought it twice for a weekly wine-and-cheese party for which I buy. I was very happy to save us some money.
                          I'll look into your "Z" cheese--thanks for the tip!

                          1. re: MacGuffin

                            Yeah Saxelby's a great place and Now that I put my mind to it, if you are going to by Cayga down here its probably the better place to do so (Anne's a lot more careful about picking good wheels of the stuff than either Murray's or Fairway. The Other cheeseplace in Essex St. Market's (the one in the back) is pretty good too, (only place in NYC I can find Gratte-Paille. Plus on a personal note, whne I'm there, I know I'm only a short walk from the bottom of Canal st and I can treat myself to a 1/2 pound of so of my favorite Chinese pork jerkey!
                            Yes I have had both Goredawnzola and Ewe's blue, but both tasted to me more or less like the Roquefort in whose image they were made. Guess it's just me.

                          2. re: jumpingmonk

                            ". . .Lamb Chopper is actually a SHEEP Gouda (which is actually even more unusual as to my knowledge, the Dutch don't have a big sheep cheese industry). . ."

                            There are, in fact, at least a couple of other Dutch sheep's milk goudas available in the US. One is Polder Schapenkaas; the other is Ewephoria. Both are worth seeking out. Ewephoria was "commissioned" by CheeseLand, a Seattle-based importer of Dutch cheeses. They worked with a small Dutch cheesemaker to create a cheese specifically for the American market that would be sweeter and less intense than the aged cow's milk goudas that were seen as something of an acquired taste over here. Ewephoria has been a great success since its introduction.

                            1. re: cheesemaestro

                              Ewephoria is a nice name in general and particularly since it's from Holland!

                              1. re: cheesemaestro

                                Thanks for the heads up, I should have thought that stament through. Problem is as a kid someone gave me a copy of Jenkins Cheese Primer, and I read the thing so much that I basically memorized it (as well as wearing out three or four copies) so my mind often quotes thing out of them verbatim even though I am aware that a lot of the informantion is now a bit out of date (the book IS about 20 years old by now). Wonder how long it is before someone commisions some maker in holland to come up with a water buffalo gouda (now that there seems to be this new concept of trying to see how many types of cheese besides mozzarella you can make out of the stuff)

                                1. re: jumpingmonk

                                  Steve's a friend and a total riot; did you know that the latest reprint of the Primer is hardcover? Less likely to wear out. I kinda wish he'd update it, though.
                                  Speaking of the Primer, Steve got it wrong when he stated that Vella Dry Jack is unpasteurized. I called Vella some time back to ask them when they'd started pasteurizing it (since that's how it's labeled) and was told in no uncertain terms that Dry Jack has ALWAYS been pasteurized. It's great cheese, regardless.

                  2. This sounds intriguing, but I've always found that monterey jack molds quickly in our refrigerator, even if I've never removed the original wrapping. I often cut mold off rather than throw the whole thing away. Now I'm wondering if I should re-wrap it when I first bring it home to keep that from happening. Or perhaps our cheese drawer is too humid?

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: kittyfood

                      It's going to go moldy, regardless. Just keep doing what you're doing--it's fine to just cut off the mold.
                      This is the third time in <24 hours that I've had occasion to mention this product on various lists but Tupperware FridgeSmart containers are supposed to be just as good for cheese as they are for produce (which is excellent indeed). I haven't tried them for that, though.

                      1. re: MacGuffin

                        "It's going to go moldy, regardless."

                        Except, of course, when it doesn't - which was my experience. Though I agree that was unusual enough that I wrote about it.

                        I'm well aware of the fact that you can cut the outer mold off cheese and use the inner part, but this was just a mass-produced monterey jack (and a 4 - 5 month old one at that), if it had been heavily moldy I wouldn't have bothered and would have just tossed it.

                        Mirabile dictu, it had ripened without getting moldy and I lucked out. I think I really am going to get another of the same type and try this again as an experiment. I'll report back in another 4 - 5 months.

                        1. re: BobB

                          Yours was an unusual case and I agree that if it was commercial cheese, I'd probably have dumped it, too. I'm lucky though because I can get raw jack (with hot peppers!) from an Amish seller at our local green market here in Manhattan. The price is right, too. I think the only factory cheese I've bought in years has been a block of ekte gjetost.

                          1. re: BobB

                            So - I did in fact try this. I bought another identical Cabot monterey jack about a year ago and stuck it in the back of the fridge labeled "Science experiment - do not open." The expiration date on it was September 2010.

                            Cut it open today and...nothing. No mold, no softening, no enhanced flavor, it's just a plain old monterey jack. Except for the date on the package it could have been bought yesterday.

                            Oh, well, I guess that one I had last year was just a fluke. Sigh...

                            1. re: BobB

                              Happened to me recently. Found a small edam at one of the markets I went to. Damn expensive but the monent I picked it up and felt it give, I new the miracle had occured. shure enough it had bypassed moldy and ripened into a gooey strong speadable. I guess it would be Kernham the low fat version (Edam is basically Gouda made from skimmed milk, so if one turns into Kernhem the other would as well, I guess

                              1. re: jumpingmonk

                                OT jumpingmonk but your fruit expertise could come in handy in a citrus fruit discussion: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7052...