As you can see from the above article, there are several alternative explanations for how Monterrey Jack got its name. However, David Jacks is most often credited as the cheese’s namesake.
In 1882, David Jacks began shipping a cheese branded with his last name and the city of origin, Monterey, Calif. People would ask for “Jack's Monterey” and over time the “s” was dropped and people began asking for Monterey Jack.
Then along came Dry Jack.
Dry Jack originally came about through another happy accident in 1915, when a San Francisco cheese wholesaler (D.F. DeBernardi) stored and forgot about his over-supply of wheels of fresh Jack Cheese.
When shipments of hard cheese from Europe were interrupted as World War I progressed, he rediscovered the well aged Jack Cheese. The success of this cheese was assured when he and his customers found that the aged Jack had acquired a rich, nutty flavor. He found a perfect fit for this cheese with his Italian-American customers who quickly adopted the alternative. Other cheese makers began making the Dry Jack. Shipments soon reached across the country to the East Coast.
DeBernardi was the first to coat the cheese with oil, pepper, and lamp black, an ebony pigment made from oil lamp soot (no worse than the ash that we all seem to love on our goat cheeses).
Soon there were about sixty producers of Dry Jack, but with the advent of the declining economy and a number of cheap, imported grating cheeses (especially from South America), most producers dropped their production.
Ig Vella's Dry Jack in Sonoma
Basic Monterey Jack is a semisoft cheese with little aging. It has an ivory to pale yellow color and a flavor similar to American muenster.
Dry Jack comes about by aging fresh Monterey Jack cheese for seven months up to more than two years. This will develop a very dry and complex flavor and, with extended age, makes a great cheese for grating or breaking into chunks and eating much like an aged parma style cheese.
Ig Vella's father Tom had been making Monterey Jack since the early 1920s. Ig thinks that the reason Dry Jack producers fell in numbers after the war is that they began changing the process and producing inferior cheese, primarily by skimming cream and reducing aging times. These economic shortcuts cost less but the result was a grainy and dry cheese with substantial flavor loss as well. The customer base simply stopped buying the cheese. Ig says “It’s not a mass production-type cheese; you have to be patient with it,” and “If you push it out too quickly, it doesn’t have the flavor the consumers have gotten used to.”
He maintained the quality of ingredients and the rubbing of the aging cheese with his signature oil; powdered cocoa, and black pepper. Ig felt that his Dry Jack must be aged for at least seven months but he also aged his stock of premium Dry Jacks for a year or more.