Manchego is Spain’s best known cheese. Named for the town of La Mancha made famous by Don Quixote, Manchego has earned a place of honor among the world’s great cheeses.
Manchego is a semi-soft cheese, pale yellow in color, with a firm and supple texture, a pleasant grassy aroma and a fruity, nutty, tangy and sweet flavor. It has a fat content of up to 57% which contributes to its rich flavor.
The young cheeses are mellow and smooth but develop a pleasant sharpness and lanolin flavor as their age. A six-month old version (Curado), while still fairly young, is already quite complex. The texture is firm yet supple while the flavor strikes a perfect balance between bite and milkiness.
Manchego cheese is divided into categories which are defined by how long the cheese has been aged.
One of the most traditional uses of Manchego is in Spanish tapas, where it is often paired with Serrano ham, marinated olives and bread.
Manchego can be enjoyed as is, or paired with sun-dried tomatoes, olives or figs, as well as nuts like almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts. Manchego is wonderful when served with fruits like apples and pears, as well as apricots and raisins. Olives, pickled onions and peppers, and artichoke hearts complement the cheese, as do quince paste, ginger jelly, or apricot, cherry, or apple jam. Enjoy with your favorite crackers or crusty bread. Remove the rind before cutting into wedges or slicing.
Serve Manchego with asparagus, tomatoes, greens, rice, barley, pasta, eggs, chicken, pork, salmon, or any smoked or cured meat or fish. More mature Manchego is ideal for grating over vegetables or pasta and because it is a relatively high-fat cheese, Manchego doesn't melt well.
When you get your Manchego it will be wrapped it in special parchment-like cheese paper. Store in the refrigerator.
Small pieces of Manchego can be placed in a jar of extra virgin olive oil. Cover the jar with waxed paper and place in the refrigerator.
Manchego can be frozen, though the cheese will be slightly grainy when you defrost it -which you need to do slowly in the refrigerator.
Manchego is made in the Spanish provinces of Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, and Toledo, and is available in fresh and aged varieties, although the fresh type is seldom seen outside of Spain. Manchego can be made with either raw sheep's milk or pasteurized. The raw version, known as artesano, retains more of the earthy, grassy, tangy flavor of the sheep's milk.
Required to be made only with whole milk of the local Manchega sheep which gives the cheese much of its unique character. The cheesemakers still rely on traditional methods as they have for generations such as the use of esparto grass molds which imprint the rind with their traditional zigzag pattern. Small wooden boards are used to press the top and bottom of the form imprint the wheat pattern on the top and bottom.
Made adhering to strict DOP regulation, Manchego is origin-protected by the European Union, authentic Manchego can't be produced outside of the region. That's why, when produced in other parts of the world, like Mexico and the United States, it's called "Manchego-type" or "Manchego-style" cheese.