Manchego Cheese Probably the Greatest Spanish Cheese?
Spanish cuisine, like that of other Mediterranean countries, is a cuisine rich in history and traditions that uses the ingredients of the Mediterranean diet, famous throughout the world for being a healthy diet.
The strength of the Mediterranean diet lies in the great variety of ingredients (meat, vegetables, fish, legumes, dairy products), authenticity and freshness. Cheeses are an integral part of this diet and it is precisely in Spain that a high quality cheese is produced.
Spain is mostly famous for tortillas, gazpacho, paella, wine, but in reality there are many other little gastronomic treasures, less famous and advertised, but always of the highest quality and often unique in the world. This is the case of the Manchego Cheese (in Spanish “Queso manchego”).
Manchego Cheese – History and Origin
Manchego was already mentioned in 1606 in books such as “El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha”, by Miguel de Cervantes, and in the Diccionario General de la cocina (General Dictionary of Cuisine) of 1892.
Today, the stylized design of Don Quijote riding his “bolso” horse and close to his faithful squire, represent the same logo of the Consortium for the Protection of Queso Manchego, which became a European designation of origin cheese in 1996.
Queso Manchego is one of the most popular Spanish cheeses in the world. It was born in La Mancha, a large region south of Madrid famous, among other things, for its hot summers where the temperature can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius, and it takes its name from this area.
This cheese has been a philosophy of life for the people of its region since a very long time.
Apparently the area of origin does not seem to be suitable for wide cheese production due to its aridity and high summer temperatures. The Arabs renamed the region ‘Al Mansha’, i.e. ‘land without water’, and from there the Spanish changed its name to Mancha.
However, the “Oveja Manchega” sheep breed is a rustic animal that is well suited to turning the little fodder available into good milk, even though, nowadays, the region has seen the proliferation of numerous irrigation systems.
It is a particularly productive breed of sheep and the animal’s breeding and feeding process is strictly controlled. The entire cheese production process is monitored and protected by the Regulatory Council for the PDO of Queso Manchego.
This is to ensure that everything is carried out according to quality standards and within the established geographical area. The geographical area in which this cheese is produced is the provinces of Cuenca, Albacete, Ciudad Real and Toledo.
How Manchego Cheese is Made
Milk from two or more “Oveja Manchega” milkings usually arrives at the dairy at a controlled temperature of 4 degrees and is usually pasteurized.
Processing begins with the addition of whey starter culture and rennet after which everything it is brought to a temperature of 28-32 degrees for 45-60 minutes.
When the curd has formed, it is broken and the whole curd mass in constantly being stirred, while it reaches a temperature of 40 degrees.
The curd is then extracted into plastic bands with the characteristic zig-zag striation of the manchego in relief.
The forms are pressed and salted in brine (but also dry for the more artisanal ones). The rind of the cheese is hard, white or ivory in colour, tending to straw-yellow. The paste can also become grainy as it matures. The colour is straw-coloured.
It is produced in cylindrical shapes of about 22 cm in diameter and 12 cm in height.
Manchego Cheese Taste
Manchego is a compact cheese, with a strong, full-bodied flavour and an acidulous note which, if left to mature for a long time, becomes even slightly spicy.
This cheese is aged for a minimum of 30/60 days and never more than 2 years; the cheese that is aged longer has a more grainy, less elastic and, as mentioned earlier, slightly spicy texture.
When the manchego is more than 360 days old, it is marketed as “Manchego dop Curado” (aged). This cheese won first prize in the World Chese Awards 2015 competition.
It was chosen from over 2700 cheeses in competition from 30 countries. The judges particularly appreciated its lightness and intensity, describing it as “an extraordinary cheese, light but with high notes like those of a choral chant and a long and surprising aromatic finish”.
Manchego Cheese Uses and Pairings
Obviously in Spanish gastronomy there is no lack of recipes that use and enhance the taste of this cheese, which is used in different ways depending on the level of seasoning.
To appreciate all the qualities of Manchego cheese, we must consider a few things before serving. Many times it is said that the cheese should be eaten at room temperature, but as the temperature is not always the same, the best thing is to establish a reference temperature.
Between 16º and 18º degrees would be the perfect temperature to enjoy this cheese. The pieces don’t have to be very large. If we put a small piece in our mouth and keep it for a while, we can appreciate all the flavors that releases this fantastic cheese.
We can cut the cheese in small squares for an aperitif, in not very thick triangles, both to make a sandwich or a slice of toast. The cheese is also a great dessert.
In France it is very typical to find cheese in the dessert menu of restaurants, in Spain, little by little, you can also find it. Who hasn’t finished a dinner at home with a slice of cheese?
The first thing in mind is the association of cheese with wine. However, as a must to follow foodie practice we must bear in mind that if we want to have a wine tasting, cheese is not a good match (in theory). Eating this cheese before tasting a wine diminishes our ability to perceive all Wine’s flavors, since the fat of the cheese blocks the molecules of the taste of the wine.
Nothing is more false than this! If we want to enjoy a good cheese or cheese plate, nothing better than drinking wine. This is one of the greatest pleasures that gastronomy can give us.
Manchego cheese go very well with wines with full body and aged aswell. Wines from Rioja, Ribera del Duero or Priorat can be a good example. Semi-hard or soft cheeses can also be enjoyed with white, pink or young red wines.
A good option would also be to pair with Fino or Manzanilla. To be totally honest Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are a great, affordable and widely distributed Wine Choice for this Cheese Pairing
Beer and Nuts Pairing
Unlike wine, beer enhances the taste of cheese. Their yeast, fruity and floral notes, combine well with any type of cheese. We’ve often seen cheese dishes combined with nuts. Eating them between cheese and cheese helps us to clean our mouths and therefore do not mix the flavors.
Good examples of these are walnuts and hazelnuts. Pistachios and almonds also go very well. On the other hand, dried, raisins, dates and the figs help us to improve the taste of cheese.
We cannot forget the bread. To taste a good manchego cheese there is nothing better than a slice of toasted bread with extra virgin olive oil. A good cheese sandwich for breakfast or an afternoon snack is also a good choice.
Manchego and Cauliflower Fritters with Relish Romesco Sauce – Recipe
380 gr. Cauliflowers (with removed stalks)
4 whole Eggs beaten
100 gr. Plain Flour
200 gr. Manchego Cheese (100 gr. finely grated + 100 gr. diced cubes of 1cm
3 spring onions finely chopped
2 lemons, zested, then cut into wedges to serve
4 Tbsp parsley chopped roughly
Canola or Sunflowers oil, for frying
Relish Romesco Sauce
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
3 whole roasted peppers, from a jar
50g brown sugar
50ml red wine vinegar
250g tomatoes, diced
50 gr. whole blanched almonds chopped finely
Sea-salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper, to season
Tbsp olive oil
Sauce Romesco Relish
Heat oil in a medium/large frying pan on medium, add almonds and garlic.
Fry lightly until when they are golden
Add chilli, cook for 2 minutes, then add tomatoes, vinegar and sugar.
Simmer for 15 minutes until tomatoes are softened and mushy.
Remove any seeds from peppers, dice, then add to tomato mixture. Leave aside to cool down.
Bring a large pot of water to boil on high.
Chop cauliflower, some to be very small florets and some finely chopped.
Add to the boiling pot and boil for 3/4 minutes, then drain.
Putt it back to the pot, stir over to let them become a bit mushy, at least for 5minutes and on low.
Putt flour and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl (as much as needed).
Mix into eggs slowly to avoid clumps, in order to make a smooth batter.
Add grated and diced cheese, parsley, lemon zest and spring onions, then slowly and carefully fold in the cooked cauliflower.
Preheat oven to 130 degrees C fan-forced (150 degrees C conventional).
Heat a drizzle of oil in a non-stick frying pan on medium, then add a spoon of the whole mixture to make around 5/6cm round fritters.
Fry for 4/5 minutes until golden, until the batter looks set on the surface.
Flip over and press down, trying to press any big cauliflower bits.
Cook for another 4/5 minutes until golden, then keep warm on an oven tray while you fry the rest. Season and then and serve with lemon wedges and the romesco relish sauce.