Jalapeño cheese has a spicy, peppery taste that comes from the jalapeño peppers used to flavor it. The level of spiciness can vary depending on the amount and type of jalapeño used. Some key things to know about the taste of jalapeño cheese:
Spicy and Tangy
The most pronounced flavor is the heat from the jalapeños. Jalapeño cheeses have a brisk, fiery spiciness from the capsaicin in the jalapeño peppers. The amount of jalapeños used affects how spicy the cheese is. Some jalapeño cheeses are only mildly spicy, while others have an intense burning sensation.
In addition to the heat, jalapeño cheeses also have a tangy, peppery taste. Along with the capsaicin spice, jalapeños contain other compounds like caprylic acid that give them their characteristic bright, tangy flavor. This tart, peppery taste complements the spice from the jalapeños.
Most jalapeño cheeses are made by adding diced or powdered jalapeño peppers to cheddar cheese. So along with the jalapeño taste, jalapeño cheese also maintains cheddar’s signature sharp, nutty taste. The cheddar balances out the jalapeño’s spice with its rich, creamy flavor.
Some jalapeño cheeses are also made with other cheese bases like Monterey jack, Swiss, or pepper jack. But cheddar is the most common base for jalapeño cheese. The aged sharpness of the cheddar contrasts with the fresh bite of the jalapeños.
In addition to the capsaicin heat, jalapeños have an underlying smoky, earthy taste. This comes from the unique flavor compounds in jalapeños. Jalapeño cheese often retains these smoky undertones that complement the spice and tang.
Some jalapeño cheeses also have a smoky flavor because the jalapeños are smoked before being added to the cheese. Smoking the jalapeños beforehand enhances their natural smoky undertones. It gives the cheese a charred, barbecue-like taste.
Jalapeño cheese has a creamy, supple texture thanks to its base of cheddar or other semi-soft cheeses. The cheese tends to be moderately soft and smooth.
When fresh, jalapeño cheese is firm and sliceable at room temperature. As it ages, jalapeño cheese becomes softer and more spreadable. The jalapeño pieces get dispersed throughout the cheese, giving it spicy flecks of texture.
The creaminess helps temper the heat of the jalapeños. It cools the tongue between spicy bites. So jalapeño cheese has a nice balance of cool creaminess and fiery heat.
How Spicy is Jalapeño Cheese?
There’s quite a range in the level of spiciness, depending on the specific recipe:
- Mild jalapeño cheese has just a tingle of heat
- Medium jalapeño cheese has a moderately spicy bite
- Hot and extra hot jalapeño cheese can be intensely fiery and burning
In general, most jalapeño cheeses are moderately spicy, giving just a pleasant heat without being too overwhelming. But you can find varieties ranging from very mild to very hot and everywhere in between.
Here are some flavors that pair well with jalapeño cheese:
- Bread – The cheese’s creamy texture and spice complement crusty bread or crackers.
- Meat – Rich meats like chorizo, pepperoni, or bacon balance out the heat.
- Fruit – Fresh, sweet fruits help tame the spiciness. Try apples, pears, or melon.
- Nuts – Toasted nuts like almonds, pecans, or walnuts add crunch and nuttiness.
- Onion/garlic – Sautéed onions and garlic accentuate the savoriness.
- Acidic foods – Something tart like lime, tomato, or balsamic cuts the richness.
- Queso – Blending with other melted cheeses makes a spicy queso dip.
- Eggs – The creaminess pairs well with scrambled eggs or omelets.
- Potatoes – French fries, baked potatoes, or hash browns complement the texture.
Here are some ways you can serve and enjoy jalapeño cheese:
- Nachos – Top corn tortilla chips with melted jalapeño cheese for spicy nachos.
- Quesadillas – Stuff a flour tortilla with jalapeño cheese for a kick of heat.
- Burgers – Put a slice of jalapeño cheese on your burger for extra flavor.
- Grilled cheese – Use jalapeño cheese for a grown-up, spicy version of the classic.
- Mac and cheese – Mix jalapeño cheese into macaroni and cheese for a spicy twist.
- Fries – Drizzle melted jalapeño cheese over French fries or potato wedges.
- Poppers – Stuff sliced jalapeños with cream cheese and cheddar, then coat in breadcrumbs and deep fry.
- Queso – Combine jalapeño cheese with regular cheddar and Monterey jack for a spicy cheese dip.
- Pimento cheese – Blend jalapeño cheese with pimentos, mayo, and spices for a peppery spread.
- Cheese board – Include jalapeño cheese with other cheeses, meats, fruits, and nuts.
Buying and Storing Jalapeño Cheese
You can find jalapeño cheese in the specialty cheese section of many grocery stores. Popular brands include Tillamook, Cabot, Cracker Barrel, and Kraft. You may also find artisanal jalapeño cheeses at farmer’s markets, specialty cheese shops, or online.
When storing jalapeño cheese:
- Leave cheese wrapped at room temperature for a few days for the best taste and texture.
- For longer storage, refrigerate in the original packaging for 2-3 weeks.
- Let refrigerated cheese come to room temp before serving to soften it.
- Once cut, tightly rewrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
- Don’t freeze, as this can damage the texture.
Jalapeño cheese delivers a tasty dose of spice and heat. Its defining characteristic is the warm, fiery burn from the jalapeño peppers. This pairs with the underlying smoky, earthy notes of the jalapeños and the sharp, nutty, creamy flavor of the cheese base like cheddar. The heat level ranges from mild to extra hot depending on the specific cheese. Use jalapeño cheese any time you want to add some Southwestern zip to burgers, nachos, omelets, grilled cheese, or mac and cheese. With its addictive peppery kick, jalapeño cheese is a fun way to spice up all kinds of dishes.