Once there were as many as 60 companies in California that produced dry jack cheese. But during the Great Depression, and later when lower-priced imported cheeses had the competitive edge, dry jack struggled to survive. Today, only the Rumiano family of Crescent City and Willows (in business since 1920) and Ig Vella's Vella Cheese Company of Sonoma (operating since 1931) continue to supply the tenacious cult of dry jack fanciers who have refused to let this aged jack fade away.
It's the cheese.
"People have rediscovered it. It is sort of trendy,'' says Ig Vella.
Perhaps it's the growing interest in cheeses in general. Or perhaps it's value. As the prices of imports have soared, dry jack cheese, which costs about half as much, is looking even better.
The dark coating on dry jack cheese is edible, but you can cut it off.
If you aren't able to locate dry jack cheese, order from the maker.
Rumiano Cheese Company, Box 863, Willows, CA 95988 (530/934-5438); or Box 305, Crescent City, CA 95531 (707/465-1535). Willow Maid dry jack is aged at least six months. It comes plain or smoked. The plain dry jack costs $3.95 per pound for cut pieces, $3.70 per pound for a whole wheel (about 8 lb.). Smoked dry jack sells for $5.50 per pound for cut pieces, $5.25 per pound for a whole wheel. Prices do not include shipping.
Vella Cheese Company, 315 Second St. E., Sonoma, CA 95476; (800) 848-0505. Bear Flag dry jack is aged for 7 to 10 months, Special Select Dry Monterey is aged for more than a year. Prices range from $34 to $39 for a half-wheel (31/2 to 4 lb.) to $57 to $63 for a whole wheel (7 to 8 lb.). Prices include shipping.