WHAT IS MANCHEGO?
It is one of Spains most popular cheeses. Spanish Farmers have been making Manchego well before Don Quixote was beating the crap out of local windmills. Using only the pasteurized or raw milk of Manchega sheep, this queso is then aged for around 3 (semi-curado), 6 (curado) or 12 months (viejo). Grass basket weave (pleita) molds are traditionally used. Cheese producers unfortunately save money by using these same molds with other Spanish cheeses as well. Manchego is usually aged for around 3 months (semi-curado), 6 months (curado) or a year (viejo). A P.D.O. cheese (name controlled), versions made in other countries are called manchego style. This is not to be confused with Spanish sheep’s milk cheeses at are in the same family (Idiazabal, etc).
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WHERE IS MANCHEGO MADE?
This queso is made in the Spanish plateau region of La Mancha. The harsh climate (rainy winters and desert-like summers) and sandy, clay soil here yield some of Spain’s best wines. Correspondingly, the very name La Mancha is from the Arab word for “dry land.”
SPAIN GOES TO WAR WITH MEXICO AGAIN?!
While this cheese is a P.D.O. , Mexican dairies have been making a cheaper cow’s milk “version” that can be found in most local supermarkets. Taking a page out of the Sean Connery movie Name of the Rose, the Spanish Brotherhood of Manchego cheese is up in arms about this. Words like “fake” and “insipid” have been bandied about. On the other hand, remember that Spanish conquistadors invaded and colonized Mexico. Afterward they introduced the natives to this cheese. However the invading army didn’t bring many sheep with them on the boat-ride over. And so cow’s milk cheeses became the norm.
WHAT CAN I PAIR WITH MANCHEGO?
Try a fruity Rioja, dry sherry, full bodied Tempranillo or even a robust cabernet sauvignon. For cheese flights I’d suggest either a 6 or 12 month aged raw milk. Spanish cheese tours could include a Valdeon and Garrotxa. For a more international feel, try a blue Stilton and American Humboldt Fog.