Monterey, California: Famous for the Coast, Famous for the Cheese
Did you know that Monterey Jack cheese takes it’s name from the city where it was first made by Spanish settlers and then later first commercially marketed by a Scottish immigrant? Neither did I. That is, until I came across a lovely, if somewhat small and water-logged (and apparently created on a home inkjet printer…) interpretive sign informing me of that fact on a recent hike to the top of the peak that now bear’s Jacks’ name:
Located just outside of Monterey, CA, Jacks Peak is the highest point in Monterey County topping out at a whopping 1,068 feet above sea level. The sign left me curious, and wanting to learn more about this mysterious Jacks fellow and his delicious cheese. After much additional research, I am now able to present you with the following information:
1. There is actually a fair bit of ongoing, spirited debate over who exactly should be credited with first making “Monterey jack” cheese. And Julius Caesar is involved…somehow.
2. According to the Monterey County Historical Society, Monterey jack is one of just four varieties of cheese to have been invented (created? first made? can one really “invent” cheese?) in the United States. In other words, while the U.S. may be top dawg at spitting out fancy new electronic devices that start with a lower case “i”, we are seriously lacking when it comes to new innovation in the field of dairy products.
3. Due to it’s creamy texture, Monterey Jack is excellent for making grilled cheese sandwiches.
I probably could have kept this list going for a while but reading page after page about cheese made me hungry. Lacking any authentic Monterey jack, I instead “settled” for a large hunk of Tillamook aged medium white cheddar, a piece of cheese that was so tasty I seriously considering including a picture of it right after this period. In fact, I still am considering it.
Monterey is also famous for a number of other attractions, nearly all of which, sadly, have little or nothing to do with the cheese that so admirably and bears the city’s name. Most of them do, however, involve the ocean in some way or another which is a pretty good consolation prize if you ask me.
Fort Ord Dunes State Park is one of the newer such attractions. Not new in the sense that the beach or the dunes itself are new (they’re quite old actually) but new in the sense that the land it occupies was for many years part of the Fort Ord U.S. Army post. In 1994, the Fort was closed and since then much of the land has been reclaimed and opened to recreational use. Over 10,000 acres were set aside by President Obama as Fort Ord National Monument 2012. A small strip of the beach and adjacent dunes just north of Monterey became Fort Ord Dunes State Park (pictured above) in 2009.
Clear on the other side of town is Point Lobos State Reserve, also part of the California State Park System. The scenery at Point Lobos is breathtaking to put it mildly. In slightly more concrete terms, it was WELL worth the drive back into town to withdraw some cash so we could pay pay the cash-only $10 entry fee to the park. Now, you can also park on the highway and walk in for free but in my humble opinion, $10 is a small price to pay to keep one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline in the world preserved for all to see. Like the nearby, and arguably more famous, 17-mile-drive and Pebble Beach area, the Point Lobos reserve protects rugged and rocky stretches of coastline, sheltered coves home to seals, sea lions, and sea otters, and one of the last remaining stands of Monterey cypress. What you won’t find here though is multi-million dollar mansions and immaculately manicured golf courses dotting the coast which in my view improves the scenery to a level that is beyond my ability to communicate via words.
Last but not least is Carmel Beach, located in the small hamlet of Carmel, which is distinctive in that it eschews street lamps and prohibits the wearing of shoes with heels higher than two inches. It is also one of the few towns in the U.S. to forgo street numbers. While you mull on that for a bit, take note that Carmel Beach is oriented almost directly towards the late afternoon sun, making it an ideal location to spend the end of your day watching our local nuclear fusion reactor dip below the apparent horizon of the Earth (that’s a more astronomically correct way of saying “sunset”). Note also that you won’t be alone. No matter though, just bring a blanket, a box of crackers, and some cheese and enjoy the show!