When I was a teenager, we lived in a house that had a dark, musty patch of yard to the side of it. After my older brother ran off to live in the student ghetto and join a band, I was next in line to be the kid that mows the lawn. (My parents held no gender bias when it came to household chores.) So I got to intimately know the bumps and overgrown stumps in our lawn. And of course I got to know the smell that lingered for hours after mowing this side yard, always rampant with onion grass and mushrooms.
The reason I bring that up is that when I opened the seal on this cheese, I was transported instantly to that earthy, musty patch of yard, and all of those hours mowing over the dubious things that grew there. This cheese had the same mix of sharp, pungent green onion high notes, and dank fungal undertones. It smelled like old feet in the best possible way.
Great Midwest produces this young monterey jack cheese infused with leeks and morel (a type of mushroom that would make most teenagers giggle on sight). Leeks are in the same family as garlic and onions, and they carry a little flavor from each of their cousins. So that sharpness is a great balance for the funky mushroom base. In this case the leeks were a bit stronger that the morel.
Monterey jack is not ‘monterrey’ after the Mexican city, but ‘monterey’ after the town in California where Mexican friars started making this cheese in the 1800’s. (What’s the difference? Do you care? If the cheese is good…) It’s a semi-soft American variety of cheese that is only aged 1 to 3 months, so infusing it with other ingredients like jalapeño or mushrooms and leek, or even mixing it with colby, is fairly straightforward.
On a completely different note (and because I’m a geek), while reading up on jack cheese, I discovered something called a ‘cheese effect’. Unfortunately this isn’t related to being a turophile. Most aged cheese (and other aged food like beer, tofu and meats) and a lot of other berries and nuts have a chemical called tyramine that has been known to cause headaches and migraines. Fresh cheese like ricotta and neufchatel are exempt, and apparently of aged cheese, jack has the lowest amount of tyramine so it’s safe for people with migraine issues.
Okay, back from my geeky tangent… so this morel and leek jack cheese is pungent, smooth, and so full of flavors that the cat was sniffing at it for a few minutes before she could decide what to do about her sample. We had our first tastes with breakfast today and decided this would be perfect on some toasted sourdough bread with a bit of mustard and some diced green olives. Yummy sandwich. But warn anyone before trying to kiss them.
We found this at our local grocery store, and at $4.50 for a 1/2 pound little wheel, it’s not a bad price. It needs a crunchy toasted bread or crackers to contrast with the very creamy texture of the cheese. If you’re doing a cheese plate for a party, add this to the selection for a bit of fun. It’s definitely something you would serve with a meal you’re also serving beer with. Preferably a hoppy IPA.
Morel & Leek Jack