Dry Jack Cheese

Where does Dry Jack cheese fall on the spectrum of hard cheeses and how does it compare with Parmesan?

Steven Jenkins, cheese expert at the Fairway Market in New York City and author of Cheese Primer (Workman, 1996), told us that all granas are Italian cheeses. In fact, the word means "grain" in Italian. Dry Jack, a hand-crafted artisanal cheese from California, thus does not fall into the grana category. Nonetheless, Dry Jack is a hard cheese that grates beautifully and that shatters when cut with a knife.

After a side-by-side tasting of Dry Jack and Parmigiano-Reggiano in our test kitchen, we concluded that each has distinctive flavor and textural nuances. The Parmigiano-Reggiano was unanimously judged to be fruitier and nuttier than the Dry Jack, with a wider range of flavor notes from mild to sharp. This translated into a "stronger, more developed, complex flavor." By comparison, tasters considered the Dry Jack to be more creamy, buttery, and rich, with a more "one-dimensional" flavor. Several people picked up "cheddarlike" characteristics in the texture and flavor. In sum, each cheese had its fans, and everyone agreed that "these are completely different cheeses."

Vella brand Bear Flag Dry Jack is available by mail for $10.95 per pound, plus shipping costs, from Formaggio Kitchen (244 Huron Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-354-4750).

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