Manchego is one of the most popular cheeses from Spain and it is made using sheep’s milk. It hails from the La Mancha region and it is one of the most-exported cheese from Spain to the United States. It is also often one of the first artisanal cheeses introduced to burgeoning cheese lovers. Let us know more about the Manchego cheese.
It is unknown when the Manchego cheese was first made but in Spain, some archeologists have found evidence of its production on the La Mancha plains well before the time of Christ. That was back in the time when the Iberian civilization was still in a relatively Bronze Age. This means that it was thousands of years old.
If that was to be believed, then it shows that the inhabitants of La Mancha had mastered cheese making using sheep’s milk. And the sheep they used before are considered as the ancestors of the modern-day Manchega sheep.
Manchego cheese is also known by some as the cheese of Don Quixote, as mentioned in Miguel de Cervantes’ novel titled, “Don Quixote of La Mancha”.
The designation of Manchego cheese is protected under Spain’s Denominacion de Origen (DO), and it also has been granted by the European Union a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. This means that for a cheese to be called Manchego, it has to be produced in an area that is restricted to designated parts of the provinces of Cuenca, Ciudad Real, Toledo, and Albacete, which all lie within the La Mancha region.
Aside from that, it can only be made using the whole milk of sheep of the manchega breed that are raised on registered farms. If it will be made from pasteurized or raw milk, it should be labelled as artisan.
Manchego cheese should be aged for a minimum of 60 days and a maximum of 2 years, and should be produced by pressing in a cylindrical mold with a height of 12cm and a diameter of 22cm.
Characteristics of Manchego Cheese
Manchego is a semi-soft cheese that is firm and supple. It has a waxed, inedible rind and comes in pale yellow color. It has a fruity, nutty, sweet, and tangy flavor, and a grassy and pleasant aroma.
Cheese makers have their specific ways and techniques in making Manchego cheese traditionally. The curd was pressed into plaited esparto grass baskets, giving its rind a unique zig-zag impression. But today, these esparto baskets have been replaced by new-age molds but are still designed in a manner that replicates the distinct imprint made by the traditional baskets.
There are different varieties of Manchego cheese which are Fresco, Curado, Semicurado, and Viejo. Fresco Manchego or fresh Manchego is ages for two weeks, and has a rich but mild flavor. Curado Manchego is aged for three to six months and has a sweet and nutty flavor. Semicurado Manchego is aged for three weeks and has a milder taste. And Viejo Manchego is aged for a year, giving it a hard texture and a deep, rich piquant taste.
Since Manchego cheese is made using sheep’s milk, it is very high in protein, even higher than meat, therefore, vegetarians can raise a toast to this cheese. Aside from that, it is also naturally low in lactose, making it a safe choice for mildly lactose intolerant people. It also has high levels of calcium and vitamin A, which can help strengthen bones.
Though it is packed with vitamins, Manchego cheese also comes with a lot of saturated fats, meaning, if you want to eat this cheese regularly or often, you should combine it with a steady exercise regime to avoid gaining a lot of pounds.
Manchego Cheese Pairings
Manchego cheese should be served at room temperature. It can be cut into thin slices and can be made into some incredible tapas. It is best served with cured Iberian ham and marinated Olives. You can also pair it with sweet foods such as fig jam, honey, and membrillo.
When it comes to drinks, Manchego cheese is best paired with Sherry, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Syrah, and Tempranillo wines. It can also go well with beers.
Manchego is another delicious cheese and a must-try for all cheese lovers. Tasting this cheese will connect you back through thousands of years all the way to the ancient Iberian shepherds.