What’s in a name?

hard cheese 

When you are at the supermarket staring at the cheese display you may be deciding what type of cheese you want to buy, but you probably aren’t wondering about how the different varieties got their name. However, the stories behind the names are interesting, and vary from romantic (Roquefort) to to ruthless (Monterey Jack).

The Roquefort story is romantic, but there is some question as to whether it’s completely true. The story goes that “a young shepherd was eating his lunch at the mouth of a cave one day when he spied a gorgeous shepherdess in the distance. He left his bread and cheese to pursue the girl, only to find the forgotten cheese several months later.” When he returned to the cave, he found that the mold in it had transformed the cheese into something far tastier.

This story may be a bit romanticized, but it does actually reflect the Roquefort production process, as the cheese’s “name is legally protected so that it only applies to cheeses aged in the caves that burrow into Mount Combalou near the French commune of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.” The article describes how seven other cheese get their name.

Monterey Jack’s story is less pleasant, and this piece dives deep into its history. It involves a callous entrepreneur named David Jack, who through various shenanigans acquired a large swath of land near Monterey, California. When he took control of the land, it contained ranches, vineyards, and 14 dairies. The cheese produced at these dairies, which had been passed on from Spanish missionaries, was very popular. Mr. Jack claimed ownership of everything on his newly-acquired lands, slapped his name on the cheese, and the rest is history.

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