Pepper jack cheese provides a buttery cheesy flavor along with a balanced kick of spices. It is perhaps one of the best-known cheeses in the world thanks to its wide variety of uses in making pizzas, sandwiches, subs, tacos, and much more!
However, as far as cheeses go, pepper jack isn’t known to be nutritionally dense. Whether you are out of pepper jack at home or if you want to avoid using it because of health reasons, there are several substitutes that you can try.
What are the best pepper jack cheese substitutes? Pepper jack cheese is a soft cheese with a buttery flavor which means that it can easily be replaced with a range of similar-texture cheeses like gouda, mozzarella, Parmesan, cheddar, and even spiced cottage cheese if you are looking for a healthy kick!
Read below to learn more about pepper jack cheese, its unique characteristics, its uses, and how it can easily be substituted!
Pepper Jack Cheese Basics
Pepper jack cheese is derived from Monterey Jack which was invented sometime around the 18th century by a Californian businessman named David Jacks.
Pepper jack is a version of Monterey Jack which is a Californian white, semi-hard cheese made using cow’s milk. It is infused with spices like chili peppers, bell peppers, and herbs.
On its own, pepper jack has a very distinct cheesy and mild flavor that combined with the spices, provides a very balanced flavor that can be used in a lot of different recipes.
Nutritionally, pepper jack can be higher in saturated fats and cholesterol but when eaten in moderation, it is known to be beneficial and can easily become a part of anyone’s diet.
Also, since pepper jack is derived from Monterey Jack, you can make your version of pepper jack by mixing different herbs and spices. You can even make it at home from scratch too!
The great thing about Monterey Jack is that it follows the same cheese-making process as other types of semi-solid cheeses, however, one key difference in its production process is its maturation.
An average Monterey Jack cheese block can mature for about 2 months to up to 2 years!
This gives the cheese its distinct milky, buttery, and mildly sweet flavor along with its smooth texture.
Here are some of its key characteristics:
Pepper jack has a distinct pale white to light yellow color and can have streaks of red and green depending on what type of chili is used to flavor the cheese.
Typically, pepper jack can take on a variety of colors and marbling and the best part is that you can make this cheese any way you like.
To change the appearance and presentation of the cheese, expert cheesemakers will add in all the ingredients once the dry curd has been processed and is ready to be pressed into a block or wheel.
The spicy ingredients are added with the curds and then mixed until homogenous. The curds are then further weighed down to give them shape and structure.
Once the cheese block has formed, it will then be left to mature until some of the moisture from the cheese has evaporated. This can take anywhere from 2 months to up to a year or more.
As mentioned, the flavor of pepper jack depends on the type of herbs and spices used in it. The commercial variety is usually only mildly spicy because the flavor of the cheese modulates the overall spiciness of the slices.
The cheese itself has a sweet, buttery, and milky flavor but can vary from one cheesemaker to the next!
Pepper jack slices can melt easily and add a rounded flavor of cheese and spices when it is melted over food. The best example of this is in sandwiches, subs, or pizzas.
Pepper jack has extensive uses and can be paired in several recipes.
It is important to note that the substitutes below will have more or less the same uses too but you may want to add in a few spicy ingredients to add that distinct heat that a typical slice of pepper jack provides.
On its own, pepper jack will provide both heat and flavor in grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, eggs, fish, and of course, Mexican dishes!
Here are a few great substitutes for pepper jack cheese:
1. Mozzarella Cheese
While different in its texture and flavor, mozzarella cheese can be a great substitute for the pepper jack, especially when it is balanced with a few slices of peppers and a sprinkle of herbs.
Mozzarella cheese is equally versatile and can be added to many different types of foods.
The best thing about this type of cheese is that it is available in various forms. For example, some mozzarella blocks are formulated to have an extra pull, something that this cheese is famous for.
However, if you don’t want that distinct pizza cheese-like characteristics then you can go for artisanal or custom-made mozzarella that delivers on more or less the same flavor but without the iconic pull.
Mozzarella cheese, similar to pepper jack spreads well on food too so you can use it as a garnish for your favorite dishes!
2. Cheddar Cheese
While cheddar cheese is a harder cheese than pepper jack, you may still get a lot of utility out of it if you melt it over food.
The best part about using cheddar is that it offers a distinct and slightly tangy flavor that can further be toned down with the help of herbs and spices.
We recommend pairing cheddar cheese with habanero or other types of bell peppers to regulate its overall flavor.
Sure, the texture and color won’t be the same as pepper jack, but you may be able to come very close to the flavor of Monterey cheese which is the primary characteristic you should aim for.
For the best experience, slice thin slices of cheddar and add them directly to the pot during the cooking method so that the cheese coats the food equally.
Alternatively, you may also use a microwave to soften the cheese as per your liking.
3. Gouda Cheese
Gouda cheese is similar in texture to cheddar cheese and has a stronger flavor, however, if you opt to use a less mature version of gouda, then you may be able to get the same flavor notes as pepper jack.
This cheese is known to be a semi-hard or hard cheese, depending on how long it is aged. If you are out of pepper jack, simply cut thin slices of gouda and spread them over the food to create a gooey and cheesy layer.
Top it off with some herbs and spices and you will have an excellent pepper jack replacement that you can use in almost any recipe that calls for pepper jack.
Just keep in mind that gouda can be a bit stronger in flavor so you might have to adjust the overall quantity to fit your flavor preferences.
4. Parmesan Cheese
Parmesan is another great option that you can choose for virtually any recipe that calls for pepper jack.
Although parmesan has a unique flavor that is different from pepper jack, this cheese will work perfectly as a cheesy garnish or in smaller quantities.
The flavor and textural differences may even become negligible when herbs and spices are added to it.
If you want the same great buttery flavor, then we recommend warming up parmesan to loosen its texture.
While it won’t provide much of a pull, it will easily match the buttery and creamy flavor of pepper jack, especially when paired with roasted peppercorns and bell peppers.
5. Commercial Sliced Cheese
When in an emergency, you can always go for any run-of-the-mill cheese slice.
An advantage of using a commercial cheese slice is that you will be able to greatly change the flavor of the cheese just by adding a few spicy ingredients as a garnish.
While this is not the healthiest option, it is the next best thing to having a slice of pepper jack. Just remember not to overuse the cheese slices as most commercial cheeses are formulated to be a bit stronger in flavor.
So, while you may get the same color and texture, the flavor of the cheese may throw off the overall flavor profile of the food. Try the cheese slices in moderation or until you get the right flavor.
6. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese may not be the best contender for pepper jack but it is a viable substitute, especially if you are looking for a healthy cheese alternative. Cottage cheese is made with simple ingredients and doesn’t need to be matured.
However, it still packs a unique salty and earthy flavor that can also be enhanced with the use of other ingredients.
For example, cottage cheese can be paired with garlic and spices to give it an extraordinarily different flavor profile.
The only downside to using cottage cheese is that it has a grainy texture that may become immediately apparent.
However, if you use it smartly and blend it in food in the right proportion, then cottage cheese will make for a healthier and better substitute.
7. Colby Jack
If you are seeking a close substitute for pepper jack then you may want to check out the other cheeses in the “Jack” family.
Colby Jack is extremely similar to pepper jack, except that it doesn’t have the same peppery flavor—but you can easily fix this!
Colby Jack is a semi-solid, orange cheese that is made from cow’s milk. This cheese is cut into small pieces and is mixed with, you guessed it, Monterey Jack!
Since all Jack’s cheeses are based on Monterey cheese, this is the best way to get more or less the same flavor profile!
Even though Colby Jack is known to have a slightly nutty flavor, the bulk of the flavor comes from the Monterey Jack base which means that all you need is to add a bit of spice and herbs to get the closest substitute to pepper jack!
Colby Jack is only slightly different in its texture but once it is cut into thin slices and topped with herbs, not many people will be able to tell the difference between the two!
8. Edam Cheese
Edam cheese is fascinating for 2 reasons:
- It comes close to the flavor and texture of pepper jack cheese because of its smooth and soft structure.
- The outer layer of this cheese is covered in paraffin wax which gives it a unique red or yellow color!
Edam cheese is made from cow’s milk and is known to be slightly nutty and salty but also shares a lot of the flavor notes found in Monterey cheese. This cheese has a rounded shape and is dipped in hot wax to create a hard layer.
The wax layer creates a waterproof seal that prevents spoilage and keeps moisture away.
While mature Edam cheese can have a more developed and stronger flavor, we recommend going for a less mature block to replicate the same flavor points as pepper jack.
Add in a sprinkle of herbs and chopped chilis and then press down on the cheese using a weighted object to give it that distinct pepper jack look.
9. Muenster Cheese
If you are after a soft cheese that can easily melt and provide a close flavor and slightly better nutrition than pepper jack, then look no further than Muenster cheese.
What makes this one of the best substitutes for pepper jack is the fact that both Monterey and Muenster cheese provide more or less the same texture and flavor.
This means that you can easily use it as a substitute in any recipe that calls for pepper jack.
Just add your favorite mixture of herbs and spices and use a slice of Muenster cheese just as you would use pepper jack!
Pepper jack is an iconic cheese that can elevate the overall flavor of any dish.
Its distinct peppery and spicy flavor is beloved all around the world but for people who don’t have access to it, there are plenty of different substitutes that you can try to get more or less the same characteristics!
Now that you know the many substitutes for the pepper jack, here are a few related questions!
Can pepper jack substitutes be used in making cheese sauce?
Yes. One of the best things about making cheese sauce is that you can try different types of cheese to get the right flavor and consistency for the sauce.
This means that you can use not just one but several types of cheese to make a delicious cheese sauce.
Remember, soft cheese or a cheese with a low melting point will always be ideal when making the sauce so we recommend that you go with Edam, Muenster, Parmesan, or even Colby jack!
Can pepper jack substitutes last longer?
No. In general, any soft or semi-soft cheese is required to be refrigerated after opening it from its packaging.
The reason for this is that these soft cheeses have a higher degree of moisture than hard cheese blocks that may even be able to resist bacterial growth for a while without refrigeration.
Can you make any type of Jack’s cheese using Monterey Jack?
Yes; not only can you make Monterey Jack at home but if you buy a commercial block of Monterey Jack from the store, you can use it in several ways to create your very own version of pepper jack.
A great example of this is Colby Jack which is made by mixing two types of cheese: Colby and Monterey Jack! You can similarly make a block of Cheddar Jack using the same technique as well.
If you’re a bit of a spice fanatic and looking to make your own super spicy pepper jack at home, check out this great video on the subject!