When I couldn’t find a recipe for a pepper jack in any of the main cheesemaking books and websites I frequent (at least not on my first quick twirl around the block), I decided to develop my own. I wanted the method to be unfussy and trustworthy, and the cheese itself crowd-pleasing, meltable, and spicy. Just an all-around good pepper jack, please and thank you.
If I remember correctly, I based my recipe on a mash-up of Home Cheese Making’s Monterey Jack and Kitchen Creamery’s Baby Jack. I just sat down, wrote up an ingredient list and a method that made sense to me, and then made it.
The first time, I did a four-gallon batch. While I liked the cheese, we all agreed it definitely needed more salt and red pepper. I dialed things up and the second cheese — this time an 8-gallon batch — I loved: perfect kick and sufficient salt. The paste was tender and soft, and it melted well (cheesy tortilla chips anyone?). I tasted it early, as per my usual impatient tendencies, and because I needed to know if I had the salt/pepper levels right. It tasted young (because it was) — young cheeses have a brightness to them — but that will (or should) mellow over time.
I made the cheese again this week so I could photograph and film it (the link’s at the bottom of this post) and restock my cheezer. (All cheese-eating photos are of Cheese Number Two, and the cheese-making photos are of Cheese Number Three.)
I followed the recipe exactly but — curveball — the final cheese weighed two whole pounds less than cheese number two! I have no idea why. Because Daisy’s later in her lactation? Because I skimmed a bunch of cream from the milk? Because Emma’s early in her lactation? Because they’re eating lots of fresh grass and less hay?
It’s these sorts of variables that make me throw up my hands — I only have so much control — and keep me eternally humble and insecure. They also cause me more than a smidge of imposter syndrome. I know so little.
But I do think this third cheese will probably taste just fine. Aside from the size difference, it looked and felt perfect.
Pepper Jack Cheese
7 ½ gallons raw milk
1 teaspoon flora danica culture
9 teaspoons red pepper flakes, divided
1 ½ teaspoons rennet
7 tablespoons non-iodized salt
Heat the milk to 90 degrees. Sprinkle the flora danica over the surface and allow it to rest for 2 minutes to rehydrate before stirring it in. Cover the pot with a lid and let rest, undisturbed, for 30 minutes to culture.
While the milk is culturing, measure 2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes into a bowl and cover with about a cup of boiling water. Let steep for 20 minutes or so before straining, reserving both the liquid and the soaked flakes.
After the milk has cultured, add the pepper water and stir briefly. Dilute the rennet with about a cup of cool water and stir it into the milk — stir no longer than about 45 seconds. Cover with a lid and let set for 40-90 minutes (usually takes me closer to 90 minutes) until the milk has set up into curd and there is a clean break.
Cut the curd into ½-inch cubes. Allow the curds to heal (let them rest) for about 5 minutes.
Stir gently for 10 minutes, breaking up any large, un-cut curds.
Over the course of 25-40 minutes, heat the curds until they reach 100 degrees, stirring steadily. Once you’ve reached 100 degrees, turn the heat off and stir for another 30 minutes. Pour off the whey.
Add the soaked pepper flakes, the 7 remaining teaspoons of dry pepper flakes, and the salt to the curds and mill — stir with your fingers, breaking up the curd and working in the pepper and salt. Scoop the curds into a cheesecloth-lined press and press at medium pressure for about 18 hours, flipping every half hour or hour in the beginning and then with less frequency as time passes.
Remove the cheese from the press and air dry for several days at room temperature, flipping every 12 hours or so. Vac-pack the cheese and age at 55 degrees for 3 months (or longer), flipping weekly.
This same time, years previous: the coronavirus diaries: week 66, the quotidian (6.10.19), pulling the pin, a photo book, the quotidian (6.10.13), fresh tomatillo salsa.