#1 – PURE PROTEIN
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
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
When 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
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:
- Cut the cheese in two halves.
- Cut a wedge out of one the halves – You should only cut as much as you plan to eat.
- Take the bottom bit of rind off.
- Cut it into slices about 5mm (1/4”) thick.
- Serve – if possible – at room temperature. Manchego cheeses taste their best at 20ºC / 68ºF.
#6 – TIP, TOP, TAPA
Although 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)
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)
- 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
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?
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
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
We 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
Were 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
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?