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Make Your Own Monterey Jack Cheese

Make Your Own Monterey Jack Cheese

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Monterey Jack or Jack cheese is a soft, white cheese with a slight tang. It is ready to eat after a month of aging. A more acidic tang will develop with longer aging. Ready? Let’s make some cheese!


Following is the equipment you will need. Remember: all vessels and utensils that come in contact with milk or curds must be made of stainless steel, enamel-lined steel, high-quality food-grade plastic, or glass. Since cheese making involves the acidification of milk, the use of aluminum or cast-iron utensils is not appropriate. Also, never use wooden spoons.


The most important kitchen tool for cheese making is a high-quality thermometer with an accurate temperature range of at least 32°F to 212°F. When selecting a thermometer, the most important traits to look for are accuracy and readability. (The thermometer should be able to clearly note changes as small as 1°F.) It should also be able to attach securely to a vessel, so that your hands are free and you can continuously monitor its readings.

The Cheese Pot

Look for a stainless steel (preferred) or enamel-lined pot with a capacity of at least 16 quarts for recipes using 3 gallons of milk. A 20-quart stock pot is ideal and will be required when making a 4-gallon batch of cheese. Your pot will need a fitted lid but it is not necessary for it to seal tightly.

Note: The best kitchenware for cooking may not be the best for cheese making. Stock pots with heavy-clad bottoms are designed to diffuse heat evenly and avoid burning, but the additional mass in the bottom also retains heat for a longer period of time. This increases the time it will take for milk or curds to heat and to cool. If you have this type of cookware, you can use it, but you should experiment to determine how quickly it heats and cools. You can then adjust your procedures as needed. All of the procedures in this guide assume that you are using basic kitchen kettles made of stainless or enameled steel with single-layer bottoms.

Curd Knife

You will need to be able to cut curds into uniform smaller pieces. The curd will be much like Jell-O, so a sharp edge is not required. Your curd knife must be long enough to reach the bottom of the cheese pot without the handle touching the cheese. A long-bladed carving or bread knife can be used. A better choice is a 12-inch stainless steel icing spatula.


Coarse cheesecloth is rated as #10 with about 20 threads per square inch. Have enough of each to allow you to increase the thread count by using double or triple layers as needed.

Drying Mats

Drying mats are simple platforms that hold resting cheeses as they dry and/or ripen. Look for ones with grooves or gaps on the surface that allow air to keep the bottom of the cheese dry. Kitchen cooling racks with wide gaps between thin metal wires are not suitable for this, because the weight of the cheese may cause the wires to cut into the bottom surface. Bamboo sushi rolling mats work perfectly well.

Cheese Press

All you will need for home cheese making is a 7×4-inch classic tomme cheese basket with a matching follower. The tomme (pronounced tum) is a basket-style mold with small holes in the sides and bottom to allow the draining of excess whey. The follower (sometimes referred to as a top or lid) fits inside the basket with just enough clearance to prevent binding against the sides and has a flat surface on one side with a support structure on the other. The supports distribute weight evenly over the surface on the flat side. The tomme press forms cheese into the classic wheel shape.

A visit to your local used sporting goods store or flea market will net you the perfect set of operating weights for the tomme press. All you will need are a few old style barbell weight disks. Look for ones that have flat surfaces and clear heaviness markings.

Cheese Wax

Cheese wax melts at relatively low temperature so it will not “cook” the cheese as it is applied, and remains pliable at moderately cool temperatures, allowing the cheese a fair amount of flexibility to expand and contract without breaking the seal.

Monterey Jack Recipe

  1. Combine milk, cream (if using), and calcium chloride in a cheese pot within a double boiler. Heat milk to 88°F.
  2. Turn off heat and sprinkle culture onto milk surface. Allow culture to rehydrate for 3 minutes before stirring in. Allow milk to ripen for 45 minutes.
  3. Note the time then add rennet and stir gently into milk, using an up-and-down motion. Let milk set, covered, at 88°F for 30 to 40 minutes or until curds show a clean break. After the set time has elapsed, check curds for a clean break.
  4. Once you see a clean break, use a curd knife to cut gel into ½-inch cubes. Let curds heal for 5 minutes.
  5. Slowly heat the water in the double boiler to 100°F. This will indirectly heat curds to 100°F by increasing the temperature no faster than 2°F every 5 minutes. It should take 30 minutes. Stir gently but frequently to keep curds from matting together. Maintain curds at 100°F for an additional 30 minutes, stirring every several minutes to keep curds from matting. Allow curds to settle for 5 minutes.
  6. Pour or ladle off whey down to the curds and maintain a temperature of 100°F. Allow curds to set for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent matting.
  7. Place a large colander in the sink. Pour curds and whey into the colander and allow whey to drain. to facilitate draining, gently sift through curds with clean hands. Unblock the draining holes as necessary and keep curds from matting. Once whey has drained, sprinkle 1 tablespoon salt over curds and gently mix in using your hands. Wait 1 minute and repeat with 1 tablespoon salt. Wait 1 minute and repeat with another tablespoon salt.
  8. Press cheese with 4 to 5 pounds of weight for 15 minutes. Turn cheese and press for 12 hours with 8 to 10 pounds of weight.
  9. Remove cheese from the press as before and unwrap the cloth. Mix 1 tablespoon salt with water. Using a corner of the cheesecloth, lightly apply saltwater wash to cheese.
  10. Place salted cheese on a bamboo mat to air dry for 1 to 3 days. Cover with a clean cheesecloth. Turn cheese over twice each day. When it starts to form a yellowish rind and is dry to the touch, it is ready to wax for storage.
  11. to wax the cheese, melt your cheese wax in a double boiler. Carefully dip one side of the cheese into the wax. Let it set, then turn it over and dip the other side. Make sure that there are no bubbles or gaps (you can paint over gaps with a small food-grade brush, if needed). The thin layers of hot wax on the cheese sets (hardens) quickly (seconds not minutes) at room temperature.
  12. Once it has been waxed, store the cheese for aging at 40°F to 60°F (55°F is ideal) for 1 to 4 months. Turn the cheese over daily for the first month and several times a week thereafter.

Congratulations, you’ve just made your first brick of cheese! Once you get the hang of it, you’ll never want to buy cheese from a store again. For more cheese fun, check out our Quick Guide Make Your Own Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese. Have fun!

From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cheese Making by James R. Leverentz