The Origin Story Behind Monterey Jack Cheese's Name

The names of your food, similar to many words in the English language, have a traceable origin point and perhaps even a story to tell. This is definitely true for cheese, in which several varieties got their names from their birthplace. Per Portable Press, mozzarella got its name from the Italian word "mozza," which means "to cut." The name represents the way pieces the cheese are cut to top traditional Italian pizza. 

American cheese was named as such by the United Kingdom after cheddar cheese was imported to England from America (per a Mental Floss YouTube video). Furthermore, authentic parmesan cheese, which differs from the American version, was named for its origin point in the Parma-Reggio region of Italy (via Pete and Eldas). First produced in 1254, this variety was made to last a long time on the shelf due to the mass amount of milk production occurring at the time. 

The "jack" cheeses, more specifically Monterey Jack, have a very different story to tell when it comes to their initial naming.

David Jack likely took unfair credit

Since Monterey jack probably got its name from 1850s Monterey, California settler David Jack, it would be simple to assume he took part in its creation. Some say that Jack was responsible for the first manufacturing of Monterey Jack cheese after dairy farming on a large amount of land he acquired upon his move. Sadly, it's possible that Jack took the credit for somebody else's work when he became the face of the cheese (per Monterey County Historical Society). The exact origins are shrouded in mystery. 

Monterey Jack, which was known as Queso del Pais, may have originated from door-to-door salesperson Dona Boronda as a way to feed her large family. Another option is Domingo Pedrazzi, who applied pressure to the cheese with a house jack, thus leading to its name (via KQED). 

Reportedly, the idea was eventually stolen by David Jack, and because he was the owner of 14 dairy farms in California and thousands of acres of land, people tended to believe him. Because he was a settler in Monterey with the last name Jack, the name stuck. It's still used today despite the harsh method by which it was potentially founded.