Franciscan monks first created this cheese using cow milk in the 1700s. An entrepreneur, David Jacks, entered the picture in the 1800s, believing this cheese to be a marketable product. He began to sell the cheese, which quickly became a popular item.
It is a soft, white cheese with a slight tang to it. Authentic California jack cheese has a tiny eye structure throughout, while jack cheese made elsewhere has no eye structure. It is ready to eat after a month of aging unless you prefer more of an acidic tang, in which case you may age it longer. Jack cheese aged seven to ten months becomes dry and sharp enough to be used grated.
- 3 gallons pasteurized whole milk; use cow or goat milk, or a combination
- 1 pint heavy cream (optional)
- 1 ½ teaspoons of 30 percent calcium chloride dissolved in 2 tablespoons distilled water (Calcium chloride is used to firm the curd. Use it with processed, or store-bought, milk.)
- ¼ teaspoon Mesophilic DVI MA culture
- ½ rennet tablet dissolved in ¼ cup distilled water (You may substitute a ½ teaspoon of liquid rennet dissolved in ¼ cup nonchlorinated water.)
- 1 teaspoon plus 3 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon noniodized salt
- Combine milk, cream, and the calcium-chloride solution in a 16-quart stockpot or a double boiler and heat to 88°F (31.1°C). Add the culture. Stir in thoroughly. Allow the milk to ripen for 45 minutes.
- While the milk ripens, stir 1 teaspoon flaked salt into the rennet solution.
- Increase the temperature of the milk to 90°F (32.2°C). Gently stir the rennet solution into the milk. Allow the milk to set, covered, at 90°F (32.2°C) for 60 minutes or until the milk has set into a firm curd and a clean break can be achieved.
- Using a long-bladed stainless-steel knife, cut the curd into ½-inch (13-mm) cubes. Let the curds set for 10 minutes.
- Place the cheese pot into a second pot of 100°F (37.7°C) water or in a sink filled with 100°F (37.7°C) water. Indirectly heat the curds to 100°F (37.7°C) by increasing the temperature no faster than two degrees every five minutes. It should take 30 minutes to reach temperature. Stir the curds gently but frequently during this cooking period to keep the curd pieces from matting together.
- Maintain the curds at 100°F (37.7°C) for an additional 30 minutes, stirring every several minutes to keep the curds from matting. Allow the curds to settle for 5 minutes.
- Pour off the whey down to the level of the curd. Maintain a temperature of 100°F (37.7°C) by placing the pot of curd into a 100°F (37.7°C) water bath. Allow the curds to set for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent matting.
- Place a large colander in a sink. Pour the curds and whey into the colander and allow them to drain. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of salt over the curd and gently mix it in, using your hands.
- If you want to experiment with adding peppers, now is the time to mix them in.
- Place the curds into the plastic cheese mold lined with cheesecloth. Pull up on the sides of the cloth to avoid any bunching.
- After pouring the curds into the mold, lay the excess length of cheesecloth evenly over the top of the curds. Place the follower (smooth side down) on top of the curd and set a 4-pound (1.8-kg) weight on top of the follower. (You can use a half gallon of water as the weight.) Press the cheese for 15 minutes.
- Remove the cheese from the press and take it out of the cheesecloth. Place the cheesecloth back in the mold and return the cheese to the mold upside down. Fold the excess cheesecloth over the cheese and again put the follower on top of the cheese. Now press the cheese with 8 to 10 pounds (3.6 to 4.5 kg) of pressure for 12 hours. (You can use 1 gallon of water or a 10-pound (4.5-kg) weight plate.)
- Remove the cheese from the press and unwrap the cloth. Mix 1 tablespoon of salt with ½ cup of water. Using a corner of the cheesecloth, lightly apply the saltwater wash to the cheese. Place the cheese on a bamboo mat to air dry for 1 to 3 days, turning over twice daily. When it starts to form a yellowish rind and is dry to the touch, it is ready to wax for storage.
- Wax the cheese and store for aging at 40°F to 60°F (4.4 to 15.5°C)—55°F (12.7°C) is ideal—for 1 to 4 months. Turn the cheese over daily for the first month and several times a week thereafter.