Pepper Jack Cheese Info

Bring Cheese to The Next Level with Peppers

This reciper focuses on something special as we look at the why and how of bringing your cheese making to another level. It is the marriage of another flavor group to a base cheese and what is involved in being successful. Your goal is to make something bigger than either of the two taken separately. In other words we will focus on the synergy of a specific cheese with a special flavor partner. It's a combo that takes a bit of thought.

Of course you have probably seen this done on a good cheese plate with the accompaniment of other tasty things like honey, figs nuts, mustards, fruit, etc. with the cheese but good as they may be, the combinations are singular and momentary.

With something like a pepper or other addition to the cheese at the time of molding then remaining throughout the aging process, the flavors tend to work their way through the cheese and change over time.

Yes, this does require a bit of thought and even experimentations on what we put together and how much we use in our additions as well as the base cheese we select to add it to, but when it is right, it is so very right!.

A History of Adding Peppers to Cheese

Adding pepper to cheese is not new, it has been done for many years, especially in the south of Italy.

Over the years I have had plenty of 'Picante' Pecorino with those fiery little red peppers they use as well as in the younger Cacciocavallo.

From further north, the Pecorino Romano with the whole 'Pepe Nero' as well as in the Pecorino Sardo from Sardinia.

Also peppers are found in cheese from Greece, Latin America, and even in the Paneer of India. In the USA we find the quintessential (but commercially made) pepper jack found on just about everyones snack tray during the football season.

Why Add Peppers to Cheese

Yes, why add peppers. Well I could just say that we do it because the Italians have been doing this forever but there is a real reason why they work so well.

Peppers in general have a strong spicy (hot) flavor often referred to as 'picante'. This is due to a compound group that causes a 'thermogenic' effect. This means that they increase the body temperature and thus increase your metabolism (healthy).

In hot peppers this is the naturally occurring 'capsaicin' and in black pepper it is 'piperine'.

Three of the most important qualities associated with the use of peppers in cheese are that:

  • These compounds are easily soluble in the fat of cheese and thus disipate the heat of the peppers so that the flavor of the pepper can shine through. They are not soluble in the water phase.
  • Cheese contains casein (protein) which tends to bind to capsaicin and relieves the heat sensors. This also promotes the focus on flavor from the peppers and lessens the heat effect.
  • They are both antimicrobial and antifungal and tend to inhibit growth both inside and on the surface of cheese.

If you have ever tackled that super hot habanera sauce that your friends challenged you to,someone may have offered you a glass of milk as your face turned that third shade of red... Yes, it was the fat and protein in the milk that took the heat away.

Also if you have had any of the Italian style dried sausage that contained the whole peppercorns or hot red peppers, these helped to keep the sausage safe. Black peppers are also found on the outside of dried hams to keep the surface microbes at bay.

If you recall, about a year ago I made the cheese ball rolled in black pepper (Belper Knolle style), I still have one of those aging in my cave and still nothing grows on the surface.

The same works with peppers in cheese. The heat of the original peppers is taken up by the fat in the cheese and diluted quickly so that when ripe the heat of the pepper (both red and black) is much less but the flavor of the pepper can now be more easily appreciated. Its just a win-win combo.

So the primary reasons for adding peppers to cheese is that they provide a great flavor contribution with just a bit of heat (unless you get carried away with additions) and they make the cheese safe during aging.

What Type of Cheese to Add Peppers to

The style of cheese chosen for this month is also a big part of my game plan. What I am looking for is an early aging cheese (2-3 months) and that means a moister cheese. I added a cold water wash to the curds to increase this curd moisture, rather than to dry it out. The removal of whey/lactose before the addition of cold water and the drop in temperature associated, slows the acid production so that the cheese will be slightly sweeter when ready to mold.

Also I choose to use a full fat milk because of the effect that the fat has on melding the pepper/dairy flavors and subduing the heat of the peppers.

Therefore the following guideline will be for a rich full-fat cheese with higher moisture and a slightly sweet finish that will blend well with the flavors of both my smoked jalapenos and my freshly toasted black peppers.