Pepper Jack cheese is a variation on Monterey Jack which hails from the Monterey area in California. It was bought over by the Spanish via Mexico and was originally known as Queso del Pais.
I made this cheese quite some time ago and here it is fresh out of the press around the 25th May 2009. I waxed it after it had been touch dried.
Anyway, we cracked it open on the 1st August, after having left it to ripen for a good couple of months. The recipe stated that it should ripen for one to three months, so I thought that two was a safe bet. And a safe bet it was. The end result was a crumbly, white cheese with a decent kick due to the organic chili flakes. Both Kim and I agreed that it was well worth making and that it tasted divine.
Kim, kids and friends believe that my signature cheeses so far are Wensleydale, Caerphilly and Pepper Jack. I tend to agree, but since then they have sampled my Emmental, Stilton and Parmesan. They love them all!So where’s the recipe I hear you all asking? Well, hold your horses, here it is.
Pepper Jack Cheese
Makes about 850 gm (2 pounds)
- 8 litres (2 gallons) whole milk
- 1/8 teaspoon Direct set Mesophilic culture
- 5 ml Rennet mixed with 60 ml non-chlorinated water
- 1 ml Calcium Chloride if using homogenised milk
- 1 Tablespoon non-ionised salt
- 1 teaspoon hot chili flakes
- ½ cup (125 ml) water
Boil the chilli flakes in the water for 15 minutes. I bought to the boil and just simmered and when it looked like it was going to boil dry, I added another 60 ml of water at about the 10 minute mark. Strain and remove the chilli flakes and set aside the chili water. I used my home-grown birds eye chilli that were sun-dried on the bush.
Add the chili water to the milk and stir well. Using a double boiler, heat the milk to 31°C (88°F). If using homogenised milk, add calcium chloride to ¼ cup of unchlorinated water and mix into the milk gently. Add Mesophilic starter, mix well for a minute, raise the temperature to 32°C (90ºF), cover and allow milk to ripen for 30 minutes.
Keeping the temp at 32°C, add the diluted rennet and stir for one minute. Cover and let sit for forty-five minutes. Check for a clean break and cut the curds into 6mm (¼”) cubes. Maintain the target temp and stir the curds for forty minutes.
Gradually raise the temp to 38°C (100°F) which should take about thirty-five minutes. Stir frequently to keep the curds from matting. Once the target temp is reached, maintain for 30 minutes and continue stirring (your arms should be sore by now ;-)). Let the curds rest for five minutes.
Pour off the whey to the level of the curds, taking care not to lose any of the curds. Let the curds rest for an additional thirty minutes, however stir every 5 minutes to prevent the curds from matting. While the curds are resting ensure that the target temp of 38°C (100°F) is maintained. Line a colander with a sterilised cheese cloth and spoon the curds into the colander and toss through the salt and the boiled chili flakes. Blend well with your clean hands, then let the curds drain for five minutes.
Line a 900g mould with cheesecloth, and fill with the curds. Cover the curds with the corner of the cheese cloth, top with a follower, and press at 5kg (10lb) for fifteen minutes. Remove the cheese from the press, and slowly, carefully unwrap it. Turn the cheese over, rewrap it in the cloth and press at 15kg (30lb) for thirty minutes. Repeat the unwrapping and turning process, this time pressing at 20kg (40lb) for 12 hours.
Remove the cheese from the press, and take it out of the mould and unwrap the cheesecloth. Place the cheese on a cheese mat and board and let air dry at room temperature until it is dry to touch (usually 2-5 days). Mine took 4 days to dry in Autumn. Turn twice daily to allow for even drying.
Wax the cheese and allow it to ripen for one to three months in a humid cheese cave at 13ºC (55ºF) at 80-85% humidity. Don’t forget to turn weekly to evenly distribute the fats and flavour.
We have managed to make the cheese last for three weeks, eating a little every few days. I have learnt that if I cut the wheel into quarters and rewax three-quarters, then Kim and I are just a little more hesitant to scoff the whole lot in one weekend. Once I rewax, I place them in the normal fridge at 4ºC to inhibit the ripening process. As Dorothy, my cheese instructor once told me, “Cheese is a living organism and you should treat it with the respect it deserves”.
I highly recommend this cheese. It takes a bit of stirring, however if you are new to the process of making cheese, then give it a go if you like a bitey yet mild cheese. It is very satisfying to make and to finally eat.
You certainly don’t need any fancy crackers to enjoy this cheese. Just a plain water cracker or wafer will do fine.