I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of pepper jack cheese substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Monterey jack is the best substitute for pepper jack cheese, but you’ll need to mix it with some finely minced jalapenos. A blend of mozzarella and mild cheddar paired with red pepper flakes will also work. And if you’re vegan, you can try making your own pepper jack cheese with a cashew nut base.
I made several quesadillas with different pepper jack cheese substitutes to find the best one (it was a good day!).
Pepper jack cheese is a variety of Monterey jack cheese. As the name suggests, the cheese is studded with habanero and jalapeno peppers, giving it a moderate kick – the perfect contrast to its creamy base.
Another quality of pepper jack cheese is how easily it melts. This makes it a favorite for Tex-Mex dishes, sandwiches, sauces, dips, and pasta dishes. I was looking for substitutes that could replicate the buttery, spicy flavors pepper jack brings to the table. Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Monterey jack + jalapenos||Chop the jalapenos small||9/10|
|Cheddar + mozzarella + red pepper flakes||Great as a pizza topping||8/10|
|Other well-melting cheeses||Each had a slightly distinct taste||7/10|
|Jalapeno Havarti||One of the popular brands is Castello||8/10|
|Vegan pepper jack cheese||Kappa Carrageenan makes it meltable||9/10|
Monterey jack cheese + jalapenos
If you can’t get your hands on pepper jack cheese, Monterey jack with added jalapenos is the next best thing. Monterey jack has the same rich and buttery base, it’s just missing the heat because it’s not studded with chili peppers.
But that’s a really easy fix. I added some chopped-up jalapenos to my quesadilla and I could barely tell the difference! I minced the jalapenos pretty finely to make sure I could spread them evenly about the tortillas. But if you don’t mind some bites being extra spicy, you can use bigger chunks.
Don’t have any jalapenos? You can also use a pinch of chili powder, but be really careful not to overdo it.
Pssst… you can also use Colby jack! It has the same flavor as Monterey jack but it’s bright orange instead of pale yellow.
How to substitute: Replace pepper jack cheese in a 1:1 ratio with Monterey jack cheese and finely chopped jalapenos.
Cheddar + mozzarella + red pepper flakes
No time for a grocery run? No worries! You can whip up a pepper jack substitute with these three household staples: mild cheddar, mozzarella, and red pepper flakes.
Either cheese would work on its own because they both melt excellently, but combining them is best for replicating pepper jack cheese. The cheddar cheese brings a mild, buttery flavor, while the mozzarella ensures a satisfying cheese pull and a gooey texture. Then of course you need the red pepper flakes for heat.
I used equal amounts of cheddar and mozzarella cheese and a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, but you can make this combo as mild or spicy as you want.
How to substitute: Replace pepper jack cheese in a 1:1 ratio with a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella cheese, and sprinkle in red pepper flakes to taste.
Finally, a substitute where you don’t need to add extra jalapenos because they’re already in the cheese! Havarti cheese is creamy and tangy, so it’s less rich and buttery than pepper jack but the spice level is similar.
In terms of texture, both cheeses melt well but Havarti is a little less gooey than pepper jack and has more of a creamy consistency. This makes it the perfect swap for sauces.
Psst… Havarti cheese is a little more niche than pepper jack cheese, so it tends to be more expensive and harder to find. That’s why this isn’t the first substitute on the list.
How to substitute: Replace pepper jack cheese in a 1:1 ratio with jalapeno havarti.
Other well-melting cheeses
Jack cheeses, cheddar, and mozzarella aren’t the only good-melting cheeses. And if you don’t mind a slight flavor shift, you can use any of them as a stand-in for pepper jack. Options like Edam, Gruyere, Muenster, Gouda, and Swiss all have a high-fat content, and creamy, relatively mild flavor profile.
To most people, they will taste the same. But if you’re a cheese lover, you might notice slight differences.
- Edam: Mild, nutty, and slightly salty.
- Gruyère: Rich, creamy, and slightly sweet with earthy undertones.
- Muenster: Mild and creamy with a subtle tanginess.
- Gouda: Sweet and buttery with caramel-like notes.
- Swiss: Nutty and slightly tangy.
These cheeses all worked well with my quesadillas! You can use them alone or mix a few together to get a more complex flavor. And of course, you need some jalapenos or red pepper flakes for heat.
How to substitute: Replace pepper jack cheese in a 1:1 ratio with any other well-melting cheese.
Vegan pepper jack cheese
For my vegan friends, check out The Vegan Blueberry’s recipe (video below) for vegan pepper jack cheese, which uses cashews as the base.
The end result was super similar to regular pepper jack cheese, and it even melted! However, the ingredient responsible for the melting properties of the cheese (kappa carrageenan) wasn’t easy to find. It’s a seaweed extract used as a gelling agent, thickener, and stabilizer and you’ll most likely need to order it online.
I did see some recipes that used agar-agar instead, which is easier to find. But I can’t comment on how this swap affects the meltability of the cheese.
How to substitute: Replace pepper jack cheese in a 1:1 ratio with vegan pepper jack cheese.
Avoid using cottage cheese
There were plenty of helpful suggestions on the internet for pepper jack cheese substitutes, but not all of them worked out. I saw one blog suggesting cottage cheese and I have no idea why, the two cheeses are completely different!
Cottage cheese is made from curds in a wet and creamy base, and it doesn’t melt so it’s not suitable for dishes like nachos or quesadilla unless you want lumpy cheese and a soggy tortilla. The flavor is also different, with cottage cheese being more like milk than cheese.
Best Pepper Jack Substitutes + 1 To Avoid
- 2 jalapenos, diced and sauteed
- ½ cup raw cashews, rinsed under hot water or soaked in hot water and drained
- ¼ cup refined coconut oil
- ¼ cup tapioca flour
- 1 ½ tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
- 1½ tbsp kappa carrageenan
- 1 tsp seasoned salt
- 1 tsp himalayan salt
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1½ cup boiling water
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- Saute the diced jalapeno peppers in a small pan. Avoid browning. Set aside.
- Fill a small pot with water and heat until it comes to a boil. While waiting, add the cashews, then the rest of the ingredients (except for the jalapenos and crushed red pepper) into the blender.
- Add the boiling water into your blender, cover, and blitz until completely smooth. Scrape the sides and continue blending.
- Add the sauteed peppers and crushed red pepper flakes. Pulse just enough to incorporate these ingredients.
- Transfer the vegan cheese into a heat-safe bowl. Place in the refrigerator to chill and solidify for 1 hour.
- Remove the cheese block from the dish/mold and wrap in paper towels. You can use it immediately or let it rest for about a day or two to firm up and let the flavor develop.