While James L. Kraft was busy patenting “processed cheese”, Gaetano “Tom” Vella was working hard in Sonoma, California making a superior dry Monterey Jack cheese in response to the requests of the local Italian community that wanted a high-quality hard-grating cheese. WW1 had made it impossible to get their hard cheeses from Italy and Tom gladly filled that gap. In 1931, a group of dairymen approached Tom and offered to supply him with plenty of quality milk if he would make it into quality cheeses and the Vella Cheese Company was born.
In 1981, he turned the company over to his children and today, under the careful eye of his son, Ig Vella, the tradition and quality continues. Today the cheeses are still handmade usuing sustainable practices and milk from local Mertens Dairy.
(Ironically, James L. Kraft and Tom Vella worked together to open Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon where many award-winning blue cheeses are still made today.)
Vella Dry Jack is made in eight-pound wheels from pasteurized milk and vegetable rennet. It is placed in cheesecloth and shaped into balls that look a bit like a giant buckeye, with a “navel” where the cheesecloth is tied.
After brining a few days and air drying for several weeks, the wheels are then rubbed with a mixture of oil, pepper and cocoa that turns the natural rind into a signature brown. The oil suspends the pepper and cocoa and the three ingredients are not absorbed into the cheese (thereby not changing the flavor) but work together to keep the cheese from cracking. Most wheels are aged eight months, although a certain number are held for eighteen months which is called “Special Select”.
The piece The Lady brought home was the younger version of Dry Jack and we found it to be nutty, sweet with a nice balance of salt and acidity. The paste is golden with a firm texture. At room temperature it also exudes a nice buttery taste.
The Lady brings home another winner…
Serving Suggestions: On a cheese plate, you can never go wrong. An orange marmalade would pair well with this cheese and add a few Marcona almonds. You can also layer this cheese with a nice prosciutto and artisan bread to create a delish grilled cheese.
Wine Pairing: Benziger Family Chardonnay
Beer Pairing: Russian River Brewing Company’s Damnation Ale