THE REGULATING COUNCIL

The Regulating Council is in charge of supervising the use of the Protected Denomination of Origin,making sure all the cheeses that bear the manchego name meet the quality and source requirements set in the Council’s quality specifications.  The Council certifies all cheeses identified as manchego cheeses fit all the requirements for being considered true manchego cheeses.

Manchego Cheese www.themanchegocheese.comThe Denomination of Origin Regulating Council Certification Service personnel, carry out periodical audits and inspections on cheese dairies registered in the Protected Denomination of Origin to check that they comply with the requirements established in the Specifications authorised by the European Union.

The Regulating Body’s laboratory also carries out physical-chemical and microbiological analyses on the Manchego cheese, to guarantee that it is fit for consumption.

As an accompaniment to the laboratory tests, the Manchego Cheese Protected Denomination of Origin tasting panel makes a sensorial analysis of the cheese, rejecting batches that do not meet the minimum established requirements as regards the external appearance, smell, taste and texture.

Another important job the Regulating Council is to promote the product, informing consumers of manchego cheese’s fine qualities and the advisability of considering it an important part of a balanced diet.

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THE MANCHEGO CHEESE: MAKING PROCESS

Manchego Cheese _ Manchega SheepThe process starts milking the sheep in the milking rooms, where modern technology plays an important role in control and hygiene for obtaining the milk that is immediately filtered and refrigerated to 4 ºC.

Afterwards, the milk is taken to the curdling vats, where it is curdled using natural rennet or other coagulating enzymes.

When the curd obtains a suitable consistency, it is repeatedly cut until a grain of between 5 to 10 mm is achieved.

When this grain has been obtained, the mass is shaken and heated again in a double boiler to facilitate the exit of the whey inside the grains.

Manchego cheeseThe curd is then immediately put into cylindrical moulds, covered with a cotton cloth where the characteristic wheat-ear and herringbone patterns, remind us of the patterns made by shepherds in the past with wooden boards and esparto grass sheets.

It is then pressed. This is when the first identification is put on the Manchego cheese, the casein tab where the words “España” and “Manchego” appear together with a series of digits and letters to individually identify each cheese.

After pressing and mould removal, the cheese is salted, immersing it in brine.

They then go to maturing rooms or chambers with systems that guarantee the identification and separation of the cheeses protected by the “Queso Manchego” Denomination of Origin.

THE MANCHEGO CHEESE: PAIRINGS

Figs#1 – MANCHEGO & FIGS

Manchego cheeses pair extraordinarily well with a wide variety of foods and drinks.

In these series of posts I will share my discoveries about these delightful combos.

Let’s get started with a marriage made in heaven: Manchego & Figs

Not familiar with figs? Although not juicy, the fig is an incredibly luscious fruit, with a delicate aroma and sweet flavour. Figs have an oval or squat pear shape, and thin skin that encloses hundreds of seeds (actually miniature fruits themselves) held in a succulent, softly fibrous red or purple flesh.

If you have never tried figs with Manchego, get yourself to the nearest Whole Foods or other specialty market and buy some. Since fresh figs are only available from August through to early October now it’s the time!

Tomorrow I will be sharing with you a super easy recipe that will make you love this absolute delicacy. So go pick up a fine Manchego cheese and get your figs ready!

 

#2 – MANCHEGO & MEMBRILLO

Manchego Cheese“Dulce de membrillo” is a quince paste that is the national snack of Spain when paired with Manchego.

Once you’ve tried this combination, you’ll see what all the fuss is about, and you may even want to try your hand at making some.

Quince is a hard fruit that looks like a cross between an apple and a pear. Most varieties can’t be eaten raw, only cooked. They cook up pink and have a wonderful sweet floral aroma so and extra benefit of preparing “dulce de membrillo” is that your home would smell amazing afterwards.

Besides being a great appetizer and a wonderful dessert, Manchego & membrillo also make for a perfect school sandwich. The little ones love the sweetness of the quince paste and we feel good knowing they’re eating all the vitamins and protein they need.

Like apples and pears, quince is in season during fall. Yes, it’s season time!

So go and buy some. Soon I’ll be sharing my grandma’s “dulce de membrillo” recipe and I can tell you won’t regret giving it a go!

 

#3 – MANCHEGO & GRAPES

Manchego cheese ang grapes on chopping boardAs the common Spanish saying goes “uvas con queso saben a beso”. That’s “grapes with cheese taste like a kiss”. Lovely idea, isn’t it?

The truth is that Manchego cheese and grapes make for a perfect snack. They not only taste fantastic when served together, more importantly they are a super healthy combo that will boost your energy levels.

On the one hand, grapes – black ones, specially – are a rich source of resveratrol, a potent antioxidant that may help ward off cancer and heart disease. On the other hand, the protein and calcium of the Manchego cheese round up the snack to perfection.

A simple, classic combination, easy to put together, yet tasty and refreshing.

Who doesn’t want to feel the Manchego kiss in autumn days like today?

 

#4 – MANCHEGO & DATES

DatesToday I’m bringing you a very moorish combination.

Believe it or not, this delightful pair was already common in Medieval Spain. Tasteful and exquisite, some foods never go out of fashion.

The sweetness of the date mixes perfectly with the sharp, peppery taste of the Manchego. And it all goes deliciously well with a glass of red wine. Yum.

You can try this as chic finger food just stuffing the dates with the manchego pieces. It sounds so fancy…but really all you have to do is cut the cheese in pieces to fit inside the dates.  Don’t you love recipes like that?

Want to make the snack even more nutritious? Add some pistachio nuts on the side. Pistachios are tiny, but pack a powerful nutritional punch. They will also extend the exotic tone and add more color to your plate.

You can serve these platters up at your next party. Or you can just sit back, relax and nibble on them. I love them just like that. Make me feel like a Moorish queen.

 

#4 – MANCHEGO & CHOCOLATE

iStock_000007502441SmallAre you as addicted to chocolate as you are to cheese? Can’t you decide between these two treats? Then you’ll be glad to hear that perhaps you won’t need to choose anymore, as many studies have shown, chocolate & cheese are a perfect pairing. Great news! Isn’t it?

Of course, as both flavors have very intense and complex tasting profiles, not all the cheese and chocolate pairings will be a success.

For a hard cheese as Manchego, experts recommend sticking to high quality dark chocolates (+60%). As dark chocolate doesn’t have a lot of sugar, it’s easier to taste all the true flavors. Of course, milk chocolate and white chocolate could work as well. The best, as always, is to experiment and have fun. Take your time and invite your friends to join you on this delicious journey.

Here are two creative ideas for doing so:

  1. Combine Manchego cheese and chocolate in small grilled cheese sandwiches. You can serve them as part of your next Sunday brunch. Everyone will love them
  2. On a dessert plate serve some Manchego slices, a bit of honey, some dark chocolate sprinkles and few pine nuts. Ask your guests to slip and slide the Manchego cheese through the honey and finish off with a dip into the chocolate and the pine nuts. Delicious!

Just a final recommendation: Be sure both the chocolate and the Manchego are room temperature before tasting. That’ll maximize the flavors and aromas.

 

#5 – LET’S WINE TOGETHER! – La Mancha

Manchego tapaAlthough a good cheese tastes great on its own, I think you’ll all agree with me when I say that it’s even better when it goes with a glass (or two) of great wine.

This is especially true when it comes to Manchego.

As the concept of “terroir” (or origin) is equally relevant for cheese as it is for wine, you may want to do a “La Mancha” themed tasting, pairing your favorite Manchego cheese with wines from the region.

Did you know that Castilla – La Mancha produces more wine that the rest of Spain together? Whites, reds and rosées, the region gathers no less than 9 wine PDOs! That’s a lot of quality wine!

Try, for instance, pairing a semi-cured Manchego with a light & crisp white from Valdepeñas or a very well cured Manchego with a medium-bodied red from La Mancha. Mix, match and have fun.

Finally, as many Manchego cheese mongers also produce their own fine wines, you can go a step further matching wines & cheeses from the same makers.

As you see, the possibilities are endless in the land of Don Quixote.

 

#6 – LET’S WINE TOGETHER – TEMPRANILLO

www.themanchegocheese.comIf you were to enjoy Manchego with a glass of wine, any wine, what type of wine would you go for?

I’m sure most of you will reach for a fine bottle of Spanish red wine. And you know what? Probably that would be an excellent choice.

As a hard, slightly oily and robust cheese, Manchego pairs brilliantly well with Spanish red wines, from medium-bodied to giant reds.

It’s specially a perfect match with another fine export of Spain, Tempranillo.

Tempranillo, a vibrant and aromatic varietal, is arguably the most famous of Spain’s native grapes. Grown all over the country, also in La Mancha but most famously in the Rioja, Priorat and Ribera del Duero regions, Tempranillo’s lively red fruit and noted dryness offer the perfect background to the prominent flavors of our beloved cheese.

Did you know that Tempranillo translates to “little early one”? Yes, apparently this varietal has a tendency for early ripening as thrives even with a short growing season.

When you think about it, all of it makes sense. A cheese that requires up to two years to mature and a grape that ripens “too quickly”. Patience and passion hand in hand. No wonder they make a perfect marriage!

 

#7 – LET’S WINE TOGETHER! – VERDEJO

IMG_2064It’s a well-known fact that well aged Manchego cheeses go incredibly well with fine reds – I’ve talked about this on previous posts.

What most people don’t know is that young Manchegos are an equally great match with crisp and grassy whites such as Verdejo.

Verdejo wines are aromatic, often soft and light-bodied. They smell like a big bowl of citrus and green apples. Lovely, isn’t it? And it’s actually this fruitiness what makes for a great combination with Manchego – As you probably know by now, fruity flavors make a perfect contrast with our beloved cheese.

Although Verdejo is produced in other regions, the most well known are from Rueda, a small region North of La Mancha and the city of Madrid, just West of the Ribera del Duero.

Rueda wines are nowadays widely available across the US. So if you are a Manchego fan and love the zing of your usual Sauvignon Blanc but are ready to branch out, then you should try your favorite cheese with a glass of Verdejo.

 

#8 – ON BEER: MANCHEGO’S SECRET AFFAIR?

Wine vs BeerI’m a wine lover, and so have always enjoyed my Manchego with a glass of wine, or more, I must confess.

However, I’ve recently come across many articles about the excellence of pairing Manchego and beer. Just a new hype or a truly great combination?

As experts say, a nutty aged Manchego finds a good complement in malty beers like nut-brown ales, stouts and porters. The reason, they argue, is that the nut and caramel aromas of the beers harmonize well with those you find in aged Manchegos.

As Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of New York’s Brooklyn Brewery and author of “The Brewmaster’s Table” explains, “with wine, you’re almost always working just with contrasts. That’s not as satisfying as also working in some harmonies.”

Personally, I like pairings that work with the idea of contrast.

Also I have to admit that pairing Manchego with beer is a very nice combination too. As beer helps to clean the palate making the mouth ready for another taste, this pair can work at so many levels.

Now how about you: how would you pair your Manchego?

THE MANCHEGO CHEESE: FACTS

#1 – PURE PROTEIN

We all know that a good cheese is a very complete food, a real concentrate of all the fine nutritional qualities of milk.

Today I found out that Manchego cheese actually has such a high proportion of proteins that is in fact even richer in proteins than meat! That’s great news for all the veggies out there.

Proteins are the building blocks of life. The body needs protein to repair cells and make new ones. Furthermore, protein is also important for growth and development during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy (and Manchego is a safe cheese for a preggo to eat!).

So now you know, next time you fancy some Manchego, stop feeling guilty about it. Yes, it might be rich in calories, but it’s good for you too!

#2 – LOW IN LACTOSE

Manchego Cheese www.themanchegocheese.comAccording to recent studies, more than 40 Million Americans are lactose intolerant.

My husband is one of them.

So often I feel sorry for him as he has to watch me eating (delicious) food he can’t even think of putting into his mouth without suffering afterwards.

Luckily enough, Manchego is a cheese he can safely eat.

Like all hard cheeses, Manchego is naturally low in lactose. Additionally, being made with sheep’s milk – which has a lower percentage of lactose than cow’s milk – makes it more suitable for sensitive stomachs.

Furthermore, as the longer a cheese is aged the less lactose it has, and Manchego can be aged for up to 2 years, lactic sensitive people have the perfect alibi to reach for the most exquisite of all Manchegos: the most aged ones.

There you go. Nice pay off!

 

#3 – THOUSANDS OF YEARS IN THE MAKING

Manchego is one of the world’s cheeses with the most valuable history and heritage. That’s a well-known fact. 

But, did you know that Pre-Historic men and women already enjoyed the pleasures of fine Manchego cheese?

Yes, as locals tell me, archeological remains dating back to the Bronze age show that the inhabitants of La Mancha used to make a sheep’s milk cheese with the milk of a race of sheep that’s considered the ancestor of our modern Manchega sheep. Weren’t they clever!

Of course, we don’t know what methods our ancestors used to make this natural product, but we could assume that their cheese tasted very much like ours, and that their cheesemaking methods were most probably similar too.

Next time you queue up to buy your Manchego think about those cave men & women who were already in the know. When a little pleasure survives the turn of so many centuries it must mean it’s worth passing it on!

 

#4 – A GREAT FOOD FOR OUR SENIORS 

www.themanchegocheese.comWhen we talk about nutrition, we often think about our children since we want them to grow strong and healthy. It’s not so often we worry about the eating habits of our seniors and, by the looks of recent research, we should think about them much more.

As elderly individuals continue to age, nutritional habits become more important and vital for them than ever before. When our seniors eat nutritious meals, they can maintain sharp minds and alertness, boost their energy levels, and increase their overall lifespans.

Being high in calcium and protein, Manchego also has such important vitamins as A, D and E, which are fundamental to metabolic processes such as tissue preservation and calcium absorption.

Because of these nutritional values, Manchego cheese is a recommended food for seniors. Not only it goes far to reduce bone calcium loss and it is more digestive than milk, it also tastes fantastic and it’s soft and easy to eat.

Want to treat your seniors? Show them your love and spoil them with some Manchego. Thanksgiving could be a great opportunity to do so.

#5 – HOW TO CUT MANCHEGO CHEESE

QUESO_VALDEPENAS-238OK, so you bought a whole Manchego cheese. Congrats! You are all excited about the great cheese you’ve got and can’t wait to start tucking into it.

Now you are home staring at the cheese and wondering what would be the best way to cut a wedge out of it without destroying the masterpiece.

Have you been there? If so, here’s how to do it properly in a few simple steps:

  1. Cut the cheese in two halves.
  2. Cut a wedge out of one the halves – You should only cut as much as you plan to eat.
  3. Take the bottom bit of rind off.
  4. Cut it into slices about 5mm (1/4”) thick.
  5. Serve – if possible – at room temperature. Manchego cheeses taste their best at 20ºC / 68ºF.
  6. Enjoy!

 

#6 – TIP, TOP, TAPA

www.themanchegocheese.comAlthough Manchego can be enjoyed in many ways, it’s worldwide known for it’s central role in traditional Spanish “tapas”. These small, delectable portions of food, served individually or in groups as a designed meal, are more than food, they are a way of life.

Traditionally paired with beer or wine, “tapas” stand for casual dining in an unhurried atmosphere where spirited conversations flourish among family and friends.

Yes, everyone knows “tapas”. We all love them. But do you know how the famous “tapas” originated?

History says that weary travelers would disembark from coaches and saddle horses, to be met by eager innkeepers with glasses of wine covered with a slice of bread. In Spanish, this covering referred to as a “tapa”, from the verb “tapar”, “to cover”. This “tapa” kept insects and dust from settling into the wine and also served to satisfy the appetite of the hungry travelers.

From this simple beginning the “tapa” evolved. A slice of Serrano ham, a bit of Manchego cheese with marinated olives, were added as toppings, as innkeepers were keen to attract the travelers by offering inventive and luscious dishes.

Today, there are thousands of different “tapas” and each bar and restaurant in Spain has its own versions and specialties. Nevertheless, something remains the same: Manchego cheese is and will always be a must in any “tapas” assortment. Good things never go out of fashion. That’s it.

 

#7 – ONE CHEESE, SO MANY CUTS (Part I)

www.themanchegocheese.comIf you’re a cheese maniac like I am, here’s a question for you: How many different ways there are to cut a whole Manchego cheese?

Let’s start with the most obvious ones…

  • Chopped Manchego: Cut out the wedge you intend to chop (See my previous post on how to cut a whole Manchego cheese). Then slice the wedge first horizontally, then vertically. Although chopped food doesn’t need to be the same size, try to keep pieces as equal as possible. Cubes should ideally be around 1/2 inch in diameter. Manchego cubes can be use for the preparation of salads, appetizers and snacks.
  • Sliced Manchego: This must be the most popular way of presenting Manchego cheese. Slices can be used on sandwiches, crostinis and also as part of a delicious tapas assortment. To make the most out of the cheese, just remember that the perfect slice should be around 5mm (1/4”) thick.
  • Manchego strips: Cheese strips are a fun way to serve Manchego as part of a finger food selection. They also make a perfect snack platter when combined with fruits, nuts and/or vegetables. Finally, Manchego strips are ideal for children, as they can grab them easily with their little hands. What a great way to help them top up their calcium and protein intake!

I’ll share with you more ideas on how to cut Manchego cheese on my next post. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts. What ideas have you got?

 

#8 – ONE CHEESE, SO MANY CUTS (Part II) 

www.themanchegocheese.comAnd so, to continue with my previous post, here are more ways to cut our beloved cheese…

  • Shredded Manchego: A perfect topping for soups or grilled vegetables, you can make shredded Manchego cheese, by placing your chosen wedge in a food processor and rotating the blade. Shredded Manchego will easily keep at least 6 months in the freezer. When you want to thaw it, take it out of the packaging and place it on paper towels top and bottom. This will absorb the moisture. Remember that after defrosting, shredded Manchego is best used in recipes where it will be melted.
  • Grated Manchego: Grated Manchego cheese is ideal for sandwiches, burgers, or as a topping for garnishing any given dish. To get grated Manchego, you may use a cheese grater or a vegetable grater and gently rub the whole block from an upward to downward direction.
  • Shaved Manchego: Finally, one of my favorite cuts, the shaved Manchego. This delicate cut is perfect to add a sophisticated touch to any basic dish – I specially love it on my salads and pizzas! To thinly shave Manchego cheese, you can use a vegetable peeler. To achieve an authentic look, aim for an uneven cut.
  • That’s it, my six favorite ways to cut Manchego cheese. How about you? Have you got any other ideas? If so, I would to hear from you.

 

 

#9 – HOW TO STORE & PRESERVE MANCHEGO

www.themanchegocheese.comAs any hard cured cheese, Manchego is very easy to store and preserve as long as you follow a basic set of recommendations.

If you purchase an entire wheel of Manchego you can either keep it in the fridge or store it in a dry cellar or room that is no warmer than about 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20°C).

If you keep it in the fridge, place the cheese on a wooden tray, cover it with waxed paper and place it on the lower tray making sure it doesn’t get wet.

If you plan to store it in a room, then ensure there is good ventilation and the humidity levels are low. Also place the cheese on a wooden tray and wrap it with waxed paper. This will help to preserve the true flavors of the Manchego.

If you have a wedge of Manchego, then it’s better to store it in the fridge using a plastic storage container. Alternatively, you can wrap the wedge with a wet cloth, as it was done traditionally. Although you can use aluminium foil or a plastic wrap, these are not ideal and should only be used for short storage times – They are fine if you’re planning to eat your cheese fast!

A great idea to preserve small pieces of Manchego is to place them in a jar with extra virgin olive oil. You can also get creative and add some herbs or garlic into the mix. It’s important to remember that the jar with oil and cheese should not be sealed airtight. Instead, you should cover the opening with a piece of waxed paper and rubber band before placing in the refrigerator. This will last 2 to 3 months and will taste fantastic afterwards.

 

#10 – IS IT AFTER OR BEFORE?

Various types of cheese with bread and fruitThe way we eat is determined by our culture.

The way we eat cheese even more so.

Spaniards usually eat Manchego as a “tapa” or a starter BEFORE lunch. Together with a glass of wine or a beer and accompanied by freshly-baked bread, Manchego brings the perfect flavors to get the taste buds ready for a Mediterranean feast.

French, on the other hand, enjoy cheese AFTER every meal. A tray of fine cheeses normally follows the main course. Sometimes these cheeses are presented as dessert, in which case fresh fruit or/and fruit spreads may go on the side. In other occasions a sweet dessert follows – as for the French sucré must always follow salé.

To make things even more complicated, British would never offer a sweet dessert after the cheese. As they’ve learnt to enjoy cheese with a glass of the rich fortified wine they invented, for them cheese should always mark the end to any bohemian evening.

Then, what should we Americans do? The solution is pretty simple: Let’s take the best of all cultures and enjoy Manchego before and after, day and night.

 

#11 – TO MELT OR NOT TO MELT, THAT’S THE QUESTION

www.themanchegocheese.comWho doesn’t love a sandwich of melted cheese? Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

The question is: is every cheese equally suitable for melting? Furthermore, is Manchego a good cheese to melt?

As Liz Thorpe, a cheesemonger from NY, author of “The cheese chronicles”, says, Manchego belongs to the family of “Pressed” cheeses – one of the six families of cheeses she identifies.

According to Liz, pressed chesses have deliciously tangy, grassy and inherently “cheesy” flavors which fade away during the cooking process. Also, being a sheep’s milk cheese, Manchego has twice the fat of a cow or goat cheese, which means that it softens into a greasy slab when exposed to heat.

Therefore, if we want to enjoy the true flavors of a fine Manchego, the authentic one, we should avoid melting it.

The trouble is that the Mexican “quesos tipo Manchego” – those cheeses that are nothing like real Manchego but misuse its name – are often melted in quesadillas. Since they are often industrial cheeses, not even made with sheep’s milk, they are perfectly fine to melt, unlike the authentic one.

So beware of any melted Manchego dishes. Chances are that they’re prepared using fake Manchego cheeses.

Yes, amigos, in this story “the proof of the Manchego is in the melting”.

 

#12 – HOW TO TASTE CHEESE LIKE A PRO – Part I

www.themanchegocheese.comWe all know that cheese and wine have a lot in common. Many Manchego producers are also dedicated winemakers, and most wine aficionados are keen cheese lovers too. The two passions go often hand in hand!

It’s no surprise then to see that cheese tasting resembles wine tasting so much.

According to Pedro Condés, Communication’s Director at the Manchego Cheese PDO Council, a good cheese tasting should be conducted in three steps: “we normally commence by tasting the milk type, then look at the rind and texture, to finally appreciate the full flavor of the cheese”. If you think about wine, that would be identifying the varietal (milk), looking at the wine body (rind and texture), sniffing and savoring (flavors). Very similar, isn’t it?

So, let’s start by tasting the milk type. If with wine all begins with the varietal, in the case of dairy, there wouldn’t be any cheese without the milk.

Manchego is made with sheep’s milk. Furthermore, true Manchego cheese is made only from whole milk of the Manchega sheep raised in the La Mancha region. This is one of the reasons that make it so special.

The Manchega sheep’s milk is recognizable in the nutty, sweet and tangy notes of the cheese. As it’s impossible to buy Machega sheep’s milk in the US, Manchego cheese is your only chance to enjoy this particular taste.

So, do you have a piece of Manchego at hand? Take a bite, now close your eyes and savor it. Can you taste the Manchega sheep’s milk?

 

#13 – HOW TO TASTE CHEESE LIKE A PRO – Part II

www.themanchegocheese.comWere you able to appreciate the tasting notes of the Manchega sheep’s milk? Great! Let’s then continue with our professional tasting and concentrate on the visual aspects of the cheese – I know, you probably want to continue eating it but be patient, soon you’ll be able to savor it!

As part of our visual inspection we should look at the following:

  • The rind. Cheeses can have different types of rind: wrinkled, white, wax, natural and washed rind. They can also have no rind at all, as it happens with fresh cheeses such as mozzarella. In the case of Manchego, its rind is inedible. Nevertheless, it’s important to pay attention to it, as its distinctive, characteristic zigzag pattern is one of the signs of authenticity. Originally this pattern was achieved using esparto grass molds. Nowadays modern molds are used for the same visual effect.
  • Visual consistency. When cutting the cheese open does it appear soft, semi-soft, semi-firm or hard? Manchego is definitely a hard cheese. This comes from the aging process. As the longer the aging the harder the cheese, and Manchego cheeses can be aged from 60 days to up to 2 years, looking at the consistency will give you a good indication of how long your Manchego was aged.
  • Mouthfeel. Isn’t this the part you were waiting for? Yes, now you have permission to sample the cheese you’ve been admiring. Hooray! Take a small piece and feel it in your mouth. Does it feel spongy, creamy, curdy, crumbly, grainy, crystallized, perhaps? Most people describe Manchego as smooth, creamy and buttery. How would you describe yours? Not sure? Take another bite. Not sure yet? Then take a bit more.

Can you see now why I love professional tastings so much? You don’t need to feel guilty about tucking into your favorite foods over and over again. It’s all part of the research. Being professional they call it.

 

#14 – HOW TO TASTE CHEESE LIKE A PRO – Part III

QUESO_VALDEPENAS-232Are you enjoying our cheese tasting class? I hope you are.

After getting the basics straight and admiring the visual appearance of the cheese, we now move on to the final part of the tasting, my absolute favorite part, as now it’s time to let your imagination run wild and I can tell you: for good or bad, my imagination has no limits.

What we’re looking for is a description of the flavor of the cheese. In wine tastings, we sniff and savor to come to such a description. With cheese, we can use the following techniques:

  • Smell vs. flavor: Like wine, sometimes the scent and flavor are synonymous. Other times, they are complete opposites. Before tasting the Manchego, give it a good whiff and compare the scent to the taste. Are they similar?
  • Use basic adjectives: Start with basic flavors to describe the cheese. Is it salty, sweet, sour, or acidic? Manchego cheeses have complex tasting profiles and so you might want to use a combination of these adjectives to describe them.
  • What the animals ate: As I said on the first part of these series of articles, the flavor of the milk often shines through and tastes like whatever the Manchega sheep ate, whether it was grass, hay, or wild flowers. Can you appreciate those notes?
  • Similes: Does your Manchego smell as a sweaty pair of socks? Does the flavor remind you of a stick of butter or even walnuts? The fun of tasting is to link the cheese to memories of foods or strong smells you’ve experienced. That’s why tasting is such a personal experience.

So how about you? How would you describe your favorite Manchego cheese?

 

MANCHEGO CHEESE IDENTIFICATION: AUTHENTICITY MATTERS

I’ve already talked here about the importance of buying authentic Manchego cheese. But with the Holiday season already started it’s a good time for a reminder on how to identify this quality product.

queso-01-f-negro-copia

The genuine Manchego is easy to spot if you remember the following features:

  1. A cylindrical shape and a firm, compact consistency. Both the flat top and bottom, known as the flor, and the sides, known as thepleita, have a distinctive pattern which characterizes the cheese.
  2. Maximum weight: 4 kg (8.8 pounds)
  3. Maximum height and diameter: 14 cm (5.5 inches) and 22 cm (8.7 inches) respectively.
  4. As well as the serial-numbered casein tab on one side of the cheese, there should be a back-label on top of the cheese’s commercial label.

Remember to be genuine. Only buy genuine quality.

THE MANCHEGO CHEESE TRAIL

Many say that cheese is the new wine when it comes to food & drink tourism.

Certainly, if you’re a curious mind like me, the idea of spending a holiday collecting memorable eating and drinking experiences while discovering a unique region, is a captivating one.

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The Napa Valley winemakers were the pioneers of this trend. They started promoting the Napa trail in the 70’s, a route that’ now famous worldwide – partially thanks to the 2004 movie “Sideways”. Soon the Spaniards, French, Italians, Australians and the whole lot, took note of the Napa success and started advertising their own routes. BTW – I would love to do them all, why not a worldwide wine trail? Tempting, uh?

Now it seems cheese is taking on the same steps. At both sides of the Atlantic, the trend is confidently gaining pace: the Vermont & Wisconsin trails, the Swiss cheese & chocolate routes, the itineraries in Normandy combining cider & cheese; they all seem fantastic holiday propositions to me!

Also on a sensory level, the Spanish La Mancha region has a lot to offer. On the one hand, the largest vineyard in the world is here; on the other, this is the capital of the delicious and unrivalled Manchego cheese.

A diverse and colorful region, that Lonely Planet describes as “flat, undulating plains of henna-colored earth striped with olive groves, wheat fields and grape vines complemented by the drama of hilltop castles and deep canyons sliced into the landscape”. Isn’t this the perfect set up for an unforgettable culinary vacation?

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A region that’s also home to another famous route: the Don Quixote’s pilgrim trail. This path that follows the steps of the famous Cervantes’ classic novel character across 250km includes beautiful sights such as the windmills in Consuegra or Campo de Criptana. Totally recommendable!

So if you can envision a holiday sipping top quality wines, enjoying the taste of fantastic cheeses, and taking in the dramatic (oh, so poetic!) scenery, then the Manchego trail is waiting for you.

The Manchego Cheese

Yes, La Mancha is a region located in the Iberian Peninsula. But this doesn’t mean that all that’s Iberian is Manchego too.

I’m saying this as it has come to my attention that many American shoppers, confused about their “Manchego” appearance, are buying Iberian cheeses in the belief that they buy genuine Manchego.

What’s even worse: They’re paying the prize of the authentic gem but bringing a mere lookalike home!

“Queso Ibérico” or “Iberian Cheese” is a Spanish cheese made from a mixture of cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk. The ratio of blend used in the making is constantly altered according to seasonal availability. Also, the aging time for this lookalike varies a lot depending on the maker.

If you’ve been following my posts, you would know about the high standards all genuine Manchegos meet. As the regulating council oversees every single aspect of the cheese making process – from the Manchega sheep’s diet to the final aging of each cheese – top quality consistency is achieved in every single Manchego.

Hard work, yes, but a supreme taste no other cheese can match pays off.

The name “Manchego cheese” refers to the cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain using milk from Manchega ewes and aged for at least sixty days.  Manchego cheese is made from pasteurized milk, or unpasteurized milk if the cheese is hand-made, from ewes raised by registered Denomination of Origin farms.

Manchego cheese is the product of a harsh, extreme climate that favours the growth of very tough plants, the diet for a curious ancestral race of sheep, the manchega, that is raised under very strict standards of breeding and health.  The result is a cheese unlike any other. Although there are records of people trying to make manchego cheese elsewhere both inside and outside Spain, nobody has ever successfully imitated so many time-worn factors at the same time beyond the borders of La Mancha.

Identification

To distinguish real Manchego cheese from imitations on the market, you should look at its identification.

A numbered and serialised “counter label” should figure on top of the cheese’s commercial label, with the Denomination of Origin logo.

On the opposite side of the commercial label is the aforementioned casein tab that can be considered as Manchego Cheese’s ID number.

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Finally, it is compulsory for the “queso manchego” to appear in a visible place on all the commercial labels of Manchego cheese. In addition, if it has been made with raw milk, it should also indicate “artesano” (farmhouse).

Allegorical graphic elements of La Mancha can often be seen on commercial labels, such as Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, pictures of windmills, etc., that can lead the consumer to think that it is Manchego cheese when it is not. This fact, together with the incorrect identification of cheese in the sales points, with the use of priceholder and offer signs that incorrectly use the term Manchego, with expressions such as: “Manchego type”, “made in La Mancha”, “soft Manchego”,… which contribute to confusing the consumers even more and are a fraud.

Manchego CheeseTo complete the controls carried out on the protected cheese, the Regulating Council’s inspectors visit the commercial establishments to check that the Manchego cheese on sale complies with the requirements in its Specifications.

Manchego cheese is a very prestigious product, obtained throughout the centuries, closely linked to the territory it comes from, and the tasting of which goes beyond merely satisfying human nutritional needs to become a delight.