When we put our heads together to create our signature sandwich, “The Big Cheezy,” we knew we were making a very important sandwich, and we had to be very careful about the cheeses we included in it. Whatever we came up with had to be the grilled cheese sandwich to end all grilled cheese sandwiches. After plenty of discussion and tasting tests, we landed on the sandwich you’ll find on our menu today. It includes gouda, mozzarella, cheddar, pepper jack, parmesan, and Monterey cheese. It doesn’t mess around (though it does make a delightful mess).
We love everything about cheese, including its history. Our CHEEZY History series is dedicated to enjoying and honoring the journey cheese has taken from its beginnings to our plates. You would be amazed at the crazy events that have brought us the cheese we take for granted today. We’ve explored cheddar, mozzarella, and American cheese. Today, it is Monterey Jack cheese’s turn.
Monterey Jack cheese (sometimes called Jack cheese) is a semi-hard American cheese that is usually a white color. It is usually either sold by itself of mixed with Colby for a marbled effect. This queso blanco came to us from Spain and was fully developed in California during the 18th century by Franciscan. It got its name and popularity because of a Scottish immigrant. How? Boy, do we have a story for you!
The Shrewd David Jack
David Jack moved to the United States in 1841 and worked as a contractor for the U.S. Army with his brothers, who had emigrated earlier. He regularly worked with Robert E. Lee, and it is said they got along nicely. However, he got wind of the gold rush in California, and like many others at the time, he couldn’t resist the opportunity.
He didn’t pack his things into a wagon and set off. Instead, after spending all of his life savings ($1400) entirely on revolvers, he headed west on a military ship. Upon arriving in San Francisco, he sold the revolvers for a profit of $4,000. That is equivalent to $98,000 in our dollars today. He tried his hand at gold prospecting, but didn’t find much success. Leaving gold prospecting behind, he got a job at the San Francisco Customs House on a respectable salary and lent out his revolver profits for 2 percent interest…but his story was just beginning.
In 1850, about ten years after he arrived in America, he found himself in Monterey, California on business. He liked the area and moved there a year later. He found work at a general store run by a fellow Scotsman named Jack McKinlay. He rented lodgings from Joseph Boston, a man who owned his own general store and possessed a beautiful home that David envied. David invested in several schemes, but didn’t find success until a year after his move. In 1851, he was elected to be treasurer of Monterey county.
At this point, the area was a mess after the Mexican-American war, and the land was at the center of everything. The land had originally been owned by Mexicans, and the United States needed to settle with them. Jack had found a partner in an attorney named Delos Rodeyn Ashley. They got involved in land settling together and began buying land. Often, they were able to buy land for pennies on the dollar. However, those victories were small in comparison what would happen in 1853.
In 1853, the city of Monterey hired Ashley, Jack’s attorney, to settle its own land claim. The claim involved over 30,000 acres. Ashley agreed but billed the city $1,000 for his services over the next six years. That would be $25,000 today. The city of Monterey didn’t have the money to pay Ashley, who suggested that the state legislature pass a bill to allow the land to be auctioned. The legislature passed the bill, and when the auction began, only Ashley (and his partner, Jack) were present. They bought the entire city of Monterey on February 9, 1859, for $1,002.50.
As you can imagine, the citizens of Monterey were not pleased. The city filed a suit against both Jack and Ashley, hoping to have the sale declared illegal. However, the court ruled in favor of Jack. The city appealed on every level possible, and the case eventually landed in the United States Supreme Court, where they court ruled in Jack’s favor again. There was nothing else to be done.
Ashley eventually sold his share of the land to Jack, who ended up owning areas that are now Pebble Beach, Del Rey Oaks, Seaside, Pacific Grove, and Monterey.
Tyrannical David Jack
Unfortunately for everyone who lived on David Jack’s land, he was no benevolent ruler. He wasn’t even neutral; he was nasty. He went through his land’s tax records and paid overdue taxes on properties without telling the owners, grabbing the land titles right from under their noses. He lent money to his tenants at brutal interest rates and evicted them whenever they couldn’t pay. When he foreclosed on properties, he would find the most remote part of any ranch or farm and nail up the notice there. Depending on which language the evictees spoke (English or Spanish), he would post in the one they couldn’t read. He never broke any laws, but he cruelly bent them until his 30,000 acres mounted to more than 100,000. He may have been a devoted Presbyterian who taught Sunday school, gave baskets of food to those in need, and sent money to his family in Scotland, but because of his business tactics, he was hated and had to travel with bodyguards.
As he collected land, he absorbed the businesses on it, learning how to be a shopkeeper, saloon owner, and rancher. One of the properties he obtained was a dairy farm. Like a normal dairy farm, it produced excess milk, and Jack followed the example of other dairymen and made the milk into cheese much like the cheese that Franciscan monks had made so popular years before.
He dubbed the cheese “Jack’s Cheese” and marketed it aggressively. He partnered with 14 other dairies and eventually, the cheese was soon sold all over Northern California. People who enjoyed the cheese far away from Monterey called it “Monterey Jack cheese,” and that is how its modern name was born.
Who knew that the Wild West’s Ebeneezer Scrooge is responsible for the mellow, delicious cheese we put on our Big Cheezys? If you start to feel like Scrooge yourself, visit one of our locations in Kenner, Mid-City, or Uptown New Orleans, and we will give you a scrumptious, cheesy creation that will have you feeling benevolent again in no time. If you have caught a “Humbug” and you don’t want to venture outside, that’s no problem! We’ll bring your order to you. Make sure you order The Big Cheezy sandwich, the best grilled cheese sandwich in Louisiana!