PACIFICA JACK CHEESE DURING THE PANDEMIC
Although we don't claim our cheese has preventative powers, we do claim it will brighten your meals to add a little cheese! It can be ordered by calling Kathleen @ 415 509 6685 or emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. It is still only $8 a pound and will help support our Museum during these trying times.
Photos by Jamie Soja, Pacifica Magazine
Any cheese lover — especially one who enjoys a great grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup -- is surely familiar with the creamy cheese known as Monterey Jack. But did you know how Pacifica fits into the story of this beloved staple?
Folklore tells us that Jack cheese descends from a semi-soft style of Italian farmers’ cheese that was once a staple of Caesar’s vast armies. Reportedly, a version of this cheese made its way from Rome to Mallorca, Spain, and then on to Mexico via 18th century Franciscan monks. From here, however, the story gets a little muddy.
One version tells of a Spanish woman named Dona Joana Cota de Boronda who made bricks of cheese that she sold door to door in Monterey. According to the tale, her property fell into the hands of notorious Scot David Jacks, who made his fortune as a usurer. Another version speaks of Jacks paying overdue taxes on a dairy farm, confiscating it and then selling the cheese as way to use up the farm’s milk surpluses. However, Jacks came by his cheese, his contribution in making Monterey Jack a well-known American cheese is undisputed.
More recently, however, Pacifican Kathleen Manning discovered a new twist to the mystery: it turns out that the recipe for Jack cheese actually might not have passed through Mexico at all, but came from Italy straight to Pacifica, and through a family known well to locals.
Manning is an antiquarian who sells antique books and prints and is the president emerita of the Pacifica Historical Society. A collector of vintage cookbooks, Manning delights in reading about social history through food and recipes. She recalls coming across a 1938 edition of the book “Eating Around San Francisco,” by Ruth Thompson and Chef Louis Hanges, and thinking, “I wonder if there’s anything there on Pacifica? And there was, on Mori, and Mori’s Inn at the Point, which burned down in the ’60s.”
The passage she refers to is a description of Ray and Marie Mori’s farmhouse near Rockaway Beach, originally purchased by Stefano Mori in 1888 when he arrived from Italy. Marie took the authors of the book on a tour of their restored home and hotel accommodations. As they describe it, the kitchen carried “the odors of cooking sauces, soups, and meats,” while the storeroom seemed “a veritable Italian grocery store, with cheeses, salami hung from the ceiling, shelves of necessary sauces and foods that go into the making of Mori meals.”
It turns out that Stefano Mori made the Italian farmers cheese on the property himself. Says Manning, “Their cheese recipe was stolen by an employee,” apparently by a family friend named Baldacchi. “They had a falling out, and he went down to Monterey, to the Jacks Ranch. He had the recipe and they started producing the cheese commercially and it’s called Monterey Jack.” In effect, Manning says, “they’ve stolen our recipe, right from Pacifica.” She found corroborating evidence of Jacks’ theft in the book “Roadside History of California” by Ruth Pittman.
Manning decided to take the recipe back to its local origins. Using her vast skills and resources in finding rare books, Manning was able to track down the recipe Stefano Mori used to make his cheese, which the Pacifica Historical Society resurrected under the name Pacifica Jack Cheese.“It’s not a complicated recipe,” she says, and explains how they found a cheesemaker to produce the organic cheese as a novelty. “But it took off like crazy.” In fact, during the tours of Sam’s Castle, also put on by PHS, an actress comes out in the ghostly guise of Mrs. Mori to explain the history of the cheese. “It really is very tasty,” Manning says, estimating they’ve sold roughly a ton of Pacifica Jack now, with all proceeds going to PHS for their restoration projects.Earlier this year, the PHS held its second annual cheese contest, netting 22 contestants, both local and from the greater Bay area. They all entered Pacifica Jack-based foods in four categories: hors d’oeuvres, desserts, cheese trays and creative use. The submissions were stunning displays of edible art with names such as “Mega Jack,” “Spicy Jack,” “Jack Crack” and “Bringing Sexy Jack.” The style goes along well with the cheese memorabilia PHS sells with sly slogans such as “If You Don’t Know Pacifica, You Don’t Know Jack!” and “Make Pacifica Great Again. Buy Pacifica Jack Cheese.” Prizes included tickets to the ragtime musician Bob Milne concert, a gift certificate to the PHS store, and a local cookbook. The Spindrift Players entertained with songs from their upcoming production of “Cabaret,” and participants got the chance to take pictures with PHS’ cardboard cow. The society is hoping to hold a grilled cheese contest later this year and eventually also plans to publish a cookbook with Pacifica Jack cheese recipes.The cheese is sold both at the PHS-run Pacifica Coastside Museum and at Manning’s Books and Prints Old and Rare at the Crespi Center, as well as at Fog Fest and during the castle tours. Although it’s hard for PHS to keep the cheese in stock due to its popularity, the PHS has no plans to sell the cheese elsewhere. But as Manning puts it, “You never know what the future holds.” Given how popular the cheese is, the future for this historical cheese seems bright.
Pacifica Jack Cheese can be tasted at Pacifica Coastside Museum. For more information, please visit http://pacificahistory.org.
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