The origins of Manchego Cheese (‘Queso Manchego’) date back to the Iron Age, and greatly prized by the Greeks and Romans.
It’s a cheese made from pure sheep’s milk from La Mancha (Spanish region), a robust breed of sheep which survive harsh pastures and extremely dry conditions.
This breed of sheep are accustomed to North African desert climates and this because La Mancha was for a long time the frontier between Christian and Muslim kingdoms that resided in Spain at the time. Flocks of sheep from both sides eventually flourished and interbred and that’s how Queso Manchego obtained it’s peculiar, strong and delicious taste.
Originally as only something shepherds would eat with bread, when La Mancha became a economically important in trade, Manchego was exported nationally within Spain — that’s lead to it’s international recognition today.
How Manchego is made
1. Heating the milk
Milk is heated and then coagulated, then thickened with a rennet and broken up into curd and squeezed out with traditional linen cloths.
2. Squeezing it into shape
After being drained and squeezed out, the curd is shaped into a cylinder. The fresh cheese mass is compressed in molds, which nowadays are made of plastic, until the cheese has reached the desired density. Then they are immersed in a brine for 48 hours, dried off and taken to the cellar to mature. Key to Manchego: matureness.
Two types of Manchego
Manchego that has been maturing for six months (if artisan production), 2 – 4 months (if industrial dairy). It is decidedly compact. This is a smoother and less strong in flavour, more common between tourists.
A hard cutting cheese that matured for over six months, with a poignant strong flavor that needs no accompaniment — best eaten on it’s own.
If you are visiting/going to visit Spain we suggest you try out some Queso Manchego, you are sure to find it in any Spanish tapas bar. It is normal to eat a Manchego platter and a Jamón Ibérico platter as a started at lunch or dinner, or as a tapa. Don’t forget to try out tapas!