Nick tell me about…Manchego Cheese
Manchego is by far the most renowned Spanish cheese and its name derives from the Manchega sheep from where the milk is sourced. The flavourful and high-fat milk produced by these sheep is the secret to the taste of Manchego Cheese. Manchego has an ivory-yellowish colour, and its texture is firm and compact. The Manchego taste is intense with nutty and herbal notes; the flavour becomes more powerful with age.
There are different types of Manchego Cheese based on the ageing period:
• Manchego Semi-Curado are aged for 3 months.
• Manchego Curado are aged for 6 months.
• Manchego Viejo or Añejo are aged for between 9 and 12 months.
Manchego that is labelled as ‘Artesano’ indicates cheese that is made from unpasteurised milk.
Cheese wheels are aged in maturing rooms with specific temperature and humidity. They are frequently turned around and regularly wiped with olive oil to prevent any mould from forming.
The cheese was introduced into the La Mancha region, south-east of Madrid, many centuries ago, where the Manchega sheep adapted well to the dry and harsh conditions. Production of Manchego is so closely linked to this region, it obtained the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status in 1984. This PDO status ensures a product is high-quality, and produced in specific ways:
• Production within the boundaries of the Spanish La Mancha region.
• Made from the milk of Manchega sheep.
• Aged for at least 2 months.
• Curd moulded into specific stamps that emboss a distinctive zigzag pattern on the rind.
Unfortunately, the market is flooded with poor imitations of ‘Manchego Cheese’ so if you want to be sure that you’re buying an authentic Spanish Manchego, you should look for the following identification marks:
• A Casein Tab must be stamped on the bottom of your Manchego wheel, where the words España and Manchego appear together with a series of digits and letters that identify each cheese.
• A numbered and serialised counter label with the PDO logo must be stuck on the top of the commercial label; the label should also indicate “Artesano” when the cheese has been made from raw milk.
Manchego cheese is versatile and pairs well with many different foods and drinks. It shines when combined with quince jelly, pear jam or fig chutney and also with almonds and walnuts. It’s one of the most used ingredients for Pinchos and Montaditos.
When it comes to drinks, cheese ageing is a crucial aspect to bear in mind. The slight acidity of 3-month Manchego goes well with the fruitiness of young Tempranillo wines from Rioja. If you prefer white wine, Verdejo wines from Rueda, with their citrusy aromas, are a good option. Medium-bodied Valdepeñas wines match particularly well with Manchego Curado. Extremely mature Manchego can be paired with Fino sherry as a dinner starter. Aged Manchego also makes a great match with ale.
If you want to taste Manchego Cheese at its best, follow these simple steps:
1. Take the wedge out of the fridge and remove any packaging.
2. Leave it at room temperature for 30 minutes before cutting it.
3. Remove the side rind.
4. Cut 0.5 cm thick triangles without removing the outer rind.
5. In case of big wedges, halve the obtained cheese triangles.
6. Place it on a wooden board and garnish with almonds, walnuts, quince, fresh fruit and jams.
7. Accompany with a good glass of wine.