Tuesday, February 2, 2010

You Don't Know Jack

Only a few styles of cheese have originated in the United States. They include Brick, Colby, and Jack. Most of us are familiar with Monterey jack cheese as a young, mild semi-firm cow’s milk cheese. Since 1931 Vella cheese Company has been making a different kind of jack, Dry Jack. This Jack is aged for at least 7 to 10 months in order to develop a firm texture and a sweet nutty flavor. This cheese is great for grating, cooking, and snacking. Dry jack won the International Gold Medal in 1988 and the Gold Medal at the 2004 Los Angeles County Fair.

Vella Cheese Company began making cheese in 1931. The company started in response to abuses farmers encounter when selling their milk to the Sonoma Mission Cheese Company. Many local dairy farmers were not getting paid for their milk and wanted a new cheese company to buy their milk. The farmer’s approached Tom Vella to open a cheese factor and the farmers would give him the exclusive use of all their milk.

Vella Cheese Company started as a factory but they maintained their relationships with the local dairy’s whose milk they used. They still maintain these close relationships and the milk used for making cheese is never more than twelve hours old. Vella Cheese understands the importance of great fresh local milk and it shows in their cheeses. Now Tom’s son Ig is running the family business.

Dry Jack was created to satisfy the demands of Italian immigrants for cheese. During World War I, many popular Italian grating cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecornio Romano were no longer available in the United States. As refrigeration was also hard to come, the cheese had to be shelf stable and Mezzo Secco and Dry Jack were born. Mezzo Secco was discontinued in 1999 but Dry Jack is still going strong.

Dry Jack is hand-shaped in cheesecloth bags, then tied and pressed overnight. This creates a belly button impression in the middle of the wheel of cheese. The wheels are then brined for a few days and then air dried for a few weeks. The wheels are rubbed with Vella’s signature cure which is a mixture of unsweetened cocoa, black pepper, and soybean or safflower oil. Unlike Cocoa Cardona, the cocoa is not being used to flavor the cheese but to protect the rind. The oil prevents the wheels from cracking and the pepper and cocoa keep the oil in suspension and prevent flavors from penetrating the paste of the cheese. This enables the cheese to age for 16 months or more.

This cheese has a mild nature and is well balanced with notes of fruit and coconut oil. The texture is hard and crumbly with a rich flavor. This cheese is very wine friendly and will pair well with Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Sparkling wines as well as beer and whiskey.

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