Pepper jack cheese is a unique take on Monterey jack cheese wherein various spices, herbs and peppers are incorporated into the cheese as it is forming, giving it a uniquely spiced flavor and a variable texture that is not easily found anywhere else in the dairy aisle.
However, pepper jack cheese may require substitution for a variety of reasons, such as dietary restrictions or even simply a desire to try something new. Fortunately, a wide variety of alternative food products exist that may replicate whatever characteristic of pepper jack cheese you may wish to substitute for.
Pepper jack cheese may be substituted with a variety of other dairy products, such as American cheddar, Havarti or even other kinds of Monterey jack cheese.
It is important to keep in mind though that not all of these substitute food products will replicate the taste and texture of pepper jack cheese, and as such we have divided them into the characteristics they best share.
Why Would You Substitute Pepper Jack Cheese?
While there are a variety of reasons why a home chef may choose to substitute pepper jack cheese in their recipes, a few are relatively more common than others.
These reasons could be due to lactose intolerance, an intolerance to the capsaicin found within peppers, or even because they wish to use a drier cheese that is less likely to melt under heat.
The particular moisture content and flavor of pepper jack cheese, while no doubt a favorite for many, may be unsuitable for certain dishes or dips, and as such finding an approximate substitute that shares certain characteristics with pepper jack cheese may be the best choice in these situations.
Flavor Substitutes for Pepper Jack Cheese
If you desire to replace pepper jack cheese without losing its uniquely soft and mild taste, there are a few different types of cheeses that come quite close to the particular flavor of pepper jack, some of which may be even easier to acquire than the pepper jack cheese itself.
As always, however, it is unlikely that any of these substitutions will be an exact copy of pepper jack cheese’s flavor.
Aged Havarti Cheese
Havarti cheese is a low-fat dairy product of Danish origin with a distinctly sweet flavor that is slightly stronger than that of ordinary jack cheese, though processed pepper jack cheese with added sugar or similar additional flavorings may be on par in levels of sweetness.
The drawback to substituting Havarti cheese with pepper jack cheese is the difference in texture, with Havarti being classed as only a semi-soft cheese while pepper jack cheese and other Monterey jack cheeses being classified as creamy.
This may result in Havarti cheese presenting a different texture and a reduced capacity to melt in certain conditions, making it somewhat less suitable as a sauce ingredient or dip. This is all the more pronounced when Havarti has been aged, which may cause it to harden even further.
Young Gouda Cheese
Gouda cheese, fittingly named after its town of origin, is a semi-hard to hard cheese aged for a variable length of time so as to mature its distinct taste. With a characteristic caramel-like taste somewhat stronger than that of pepper jack cheese, gouda acts as an excellent flavor substitute in its younger form.
This is because matured gouda cheese is often soaked in a brine solution and left to dry-age so as to intensify its sweet taste even further, negating its similarity to pepper jack cheese.
Colby Jack Cheese
While not technically a total substitute for pepper jack cheese owing to the fact that Colby jack cheese is partially made from Monterey jack cheese, Colby jack cheese shares much of the same texture and flavor of pepper jack cheese with none of its relative drawbacks.
Presenting a distinctly sweet yet mellow flavor much like pepper jack cheese, Colby jack cheese is classified as a semi-hard cheese and as such is primarily used in dishes such as sandwiches, pasta dishes and casseroles.
However, being a marble cheese, Colby jack cheese shares many of the same nutritional and chemical compositions as pepper jack cheese, making it unsuitable for individuals who wish to replace pepper jack cheese because of its constituent chemical compounds.
Texture Substitutes for Pepper Jack Cheese
Pepper jack cheese is classified as a creamy semi-hard textured dairy product, making it a tactile cousin to a multitude of other cheeses that possess the same classification of texture integrity.
The term semi-hard in the cheesemaking industry refers to dairy products that present a firm and somewhat malleable texture that oftentimes has only a moderate level of relative water content, resulting in a cheese that is somewhat less likely to melt in certain situations when compared to softer or more moist cheeses.
Young Cheddar Cheese
While technically classified as very hard cheese, cheddar cheese is an excellent textural substitute for pepper jack cheeses’ own semi-hard texture owing to the fact that cheddar cheese becomes softer somewhat when incorporated into dishes or sauces.
This is all the more so in the case of cheddar cheese that is still considered quite “young” wherein it has been aged no longer than three to four months, allowing it to retain a small amount of relative moisture that would otherwise be lost over time.
Being tagged as a semi-hard cheese so long as it has been aged for the proper length of time, gruyere cheese is in the same bracket of cheese textural integrity as pepper jack cheese itself, making it an excellent substitute for the mouth-feel of pepper jack cheese.
Unlike pepper jack cheese, however, gruyere cheese with no additives is somewhat saltier, with slightly sweet notes that make it distinct from the flavor of pepper jack cheese.
Because of this distinction in flavor, gruyere is best used as a pepper jack substitute wherein the flavor of the cheese need not be similar, with only the texture being the main focus.
Yet another form of cheese produced in France, Mimolette cheese is technically classified as a hard textured cheese, though it is quite high in lipid compounds and thus separates quite well when subjected to the proper cooking conditions.
Unlike pepper jack cheese, however, Mimolette in its aged or extra-aged form will take on an almost nutty flavor and become rather difficult to eat owing to the hardness of its physical integrity.
This equates to Mimolette only being a suitable replacement for pepper jack cheese if it is both young or immature as well as used in a dish that will subject the Mimolette cheese to heat or high moisture, both of which will soften it enough to replicate the softer texture of pepper jack cheese.
Spice Substitutes for Pepper Jack Cheese
Considering the fact that pepper jack cheese is essentially Monterey jack cheese that has had various spices and peppers incorporated into its mixture during the process of cheesemaking, it is by no stretch of logic that these particular notes of flavor may be replicated by similar spices or peppers, should you desire to.
Red Pepper Flakes
While not exactly present within the unique mixture of peppers and spices normally added to pepper jack cheese, red pepper flakes can help replicate both the earthiness and the mild bite ordinarily found in pepper jack cheese’s taste profile.
This is all the more applicable when red pepper flakes are dusted or mixed into another cheese that possesses a similar flavor and texture to pepper jack cheese.
Rosemary is one of the few herbs incorporated into pepper jack cheese in order to provide it a more full-bodied flavor as well as a distinctly earthy aroma that is best noticed when the pepper jack cheese has been heated or cooked.
In terms of substitution, rosemary may be added to any alternative cheese in order to provide a similar earthy undertone to its flavor, replicating that of pepper jack cheese somewhat.
Perhaps the most common ingredient in pepper jack cheese, jalapenos may be grated, pureed or sliced into any substitute ingredient of pepper jack so as to replicate its heat and peppery flavors.
This works best with slightly saltier cheeses, such as American or cheddar, as the mild sweetness of the pepper will help tone down the saltiness of the substitute cheese, bringing it more in-line with pepper jack’s own unique taste.
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3. Robert Carlton (1955). “4: American Cheddars”. The Complete Book of Cheese. New York: Gramercy Publishing Company.