Monterey Jack is a white, semi-hard cheese made from cow’s milk, that originated in America and is named after the city of Monterey in California. It’s a very popular cheese, commonly used also in Mexican cuisine, both for its mild flavor and its melting properties.
If you need Monterey Jack for a recipe but you are not able to find it anywhere, or if you want to use something else because you don’t enjoy it, here are the best substitute for Monterey Jack cheese.
The best substitutes for Monterey Jack cheese
Monterey Jack originated in Monterey, Alta California, where it was produced in the 18th-century by Franciscan friars in the monasteries of the region. The first part of the name, Monterey, comes from this, while the second part, Jack, comes from an American entrepreneur named David Jack who started selling it all over California.
Monterey Jack has a white color, is a semi-hard cheese, and it’s mostly known for the mild flavor and slight sweetness that comes from aging no longer than a few months. Monterey Jack is also known for its melting qualities, and it’s often used in dishes that require a nice melting cheese.
There are two main different varieties other than plain Monterey Jack cheese: Pepper Jack and Dry Jack, both widely available and popular.
Pepper Jack cheese is semi-soft and retains the same melting qualities as the original version, but it’s flavored with the addition of spicy chili peppers, different herbs, and garlic.
Dry Jack is an aged version (from ten months up to four years) of the Monterey Jack cheese. The texture is firmer, and it has a pale yellow color. The flavor is more intense than its original version, rich and with a nutty undertone. Dry Jack can be shred, cooked, or eaten on its own.
Now that you know the basic characteristics of the cheese, let’s see what the best substitutes for Monterey Jack cheese are.
Muenster cheese is an American cheese made from pasteurized whole cow’s milk. It has a pale yellow color, with an orange rind (which is the result of the vegetable coloring added during the making) and a moist and soft texture.
Muenster’s mild flavor can develop into a stronger and more pungent aroma when aged, and the cheese has excellent melting properties: it’s used in grilled dishes like pizza, cheeseburgers, and sandwiches.
Muenster makes for a nice substitute for Monterey Jack cheese, both because of its mild taste and its melting qualities.
Havarti is a cheese made of cow’s milk that originated in Denmark but that has quickly become a staple in different cuisines of the world. It’s a semi-hard cheese, with a springy texture and a sweet taste. It’s well balanced and mild enough to resemble the Monterey Jack cheese flavor.
Havarti makes for a nice Monterey Jack cheese substitute because it has the same mild, creamy flavor. Even if it’s slightly creamier than Monterey Jack, it works perfectly well in grilled recipes: try it in sandwiches or cheeseburgers.
Gouda, a popular cheese native to the southern regions of the Netherlands, is one of the best substitutes for Monterey Jack cheese because it’s a very versatile product: it melts incredibly well, it’s also made out of cow’s milk, and it has the same mild flavor.
Gouda is a semi-hard cheese, with a dense and springy texture and an aromatic but mild flavor. The flavor can change depending on the natural pastures of the cattle, and it also changes depending on the age of the cheese.
Gouda can go from young (aged for no more than 4 weeks, with a sweeter flavor) to very old (aged for more than a year, with a sharper taste). If you’re looking for a substitute for Monterey Jack, it’s probably better to choose a younger Gouda.
Edam, just like Gouda, is another semi-hard cheese that originated in the Netherlands, this time in the province of North Holland. Edam is traditionally packaged in flat-ended spheres with a coat of red wax, and it’s one of the most popular kinds of cheese in the world.
Edam has a pale yellow color, ages pretty well, and has a very mild flavor, slightly salty or nutty, that becomes sharper as the cheese ages. It’s a soft cheese, due also to its low-fat content.
In its young version, Edam goes well with fresh fruit and can be eaten on its own as an appetizer or on a cheese platter. Thanks to its versatility, Edam is one of the closest cheese to Monterey Jack.
Parmigiano Reggiano, also known simply as Parmigiano, is one of the most famous cheese in the whole world, and one of the most used too. Parmigiano has a lot of imitators, but is now a protected product and carries the PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) designation. To be called Parmigiano, the cheese has to be produced from cows grazing on fresh grass and hay.
There are a lot of different cheeses, copycats of Parmigiano Reggiano, that are usually called simply Parmesan: they’re very different from the original version, and you should always try to get the original.
Parmigiano Reggiano has a hard, gritty texture, with a mild and nutty taste that can become much stronger with age. It’s usually used grated over dishes (like pasta or risotto), or eaten on its own as an appetizer or a snack.
When looking to substitute Monterey Jack cheese, Parmigiano is a good choice, but only if you’re looking for a substitute for a Dry Jack. They’re both firm and easy to be grated. You should also look for a young Parmigiano since the mild taste is much more similar to Monterey Jack.
Colby cheese is a semi-hard American cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk, well-known and used in a lot of different recipes. It has a soft texture, a sweet and mild taste, and bright yellow color. It can be eaten young or aged, aged Colby becomes much drier.
Both because of its taste and its melting qualities, Colby is considered a cheese similar to Monterey Jack. In fact, there’s also a variety of Monterey Jack, called Colby Jack, that is a blend of Monterey Jack and Colby. This variety of cheese is semi-hard and mild-flavored and has an aging process of a few weeks.
Cheddar is another really popular and well-known cheese, used all over the world and in a lot of different recipes and ways. It originated in the village of Cheddar, in England, and it’s a cow’s milk cheese with a firm texture.
Cheddar’s taste varies depending on the aging and the origin: a young Cheddar is mild and soft, but as it ages, it loses moisture and becomes drier and crumblier, with a sharper flavor. Yellow Cheddar and white Cheddar have the same taste and are only different in color.
Cheddar works well as a last resort substitute: it’s better to use it only in baked recipes, as it melts really well, but it’s not the best substitute to be eaten on its own. Cheddar, with the addition of red pepper flakes, can be a good enough Pepper Jack cheese substitute.
Another option, if you want to substitute Monterey Jack cheese in recipes that call for a piece of melting cheese, is to use low-moisture mozzarella. Mozzarella has the same mild and creamy flavor and is famous for its melting qualities.
While fresh mozzarella releases too much water, the low-moisture version (which has a denser texture and a saltier flavor) can work pretty well as a Monterey Jack substitute.
Emmenthal is a yellow cheese native to the canton of Bern in Switzerland. It’s made from cow’s milk and it’s usually consumed cold, in slices or chunks, or used in cooked dishes because of its amazing melting qualities.
There are a few different types of Emmenthal, but since you’re trying to replicate Monterey Jack’s flavor, it’s better to stick to a young Emmenthal: aged Emmenthal has a more piquant taste and it’s stronger in flavor.
Emmenthal is smooth and semi-hard, with a firm and dense texture and a hard rind, which is actually inedible. The melting properties and the mild taste make it a good alternative to Monterey Jack.
Comté is a French cheese made of unpasteurized cow’s milk that, just like Emmenthal, is classified as a Swiss-type or Alpine cheese. It comes traditionally from the region of France that borders Switzerland.
Comté is one of the most popular kinds of cheese in France and is considered one of the finest cheeses in the world. It has a pale yellow interior and a silky texture, and it’s left to age from a minimum of 4 months up to a year.
The flavor of a young Comté is pretty similar to Monterey Jack: mild and delicate, with a sweet finish. Comté melts extremely well and is often used in recipes like fondues or Croque Monsieur. Both these qualities make it a nice substitute for Monterey Jack cheese.
How to choose a Monterey Jack substitute
Choosing the best Monterey Jack cheese substitute depends mainly on your personal taste since the majority of the cheeses listed above can work perfectly well in any recipes that require Monterey Jack.
If you need to substitute Monterey Jack in another kind of recipe, or in a cheese platter, choose another kind of cheese based on your personal preferences and your taste. Muenster, Havarti, Gouda, Edam, Colby, Emmenthal, and Comté all work well as substitutes. Low-moisture mozzarella and Cheddar, on the other hand, only work as substitutes in recipes that call for melting cheese.
Pepper Jack is a different thing since there really isn’t a single cheese that could be a good substitute for the kind of flavors that Pepper Jack has. You can always try to add red pepper flakes to Cheddar, or another of the cheeses listed above that you like more.
If you’re looking specifically for a Dry Jack substitute, your best option (both for taste and texture) is Parmigiano Reggiano. Be sure to use the original version and not a copy, because they have a very different taste.