Some days it’s so much easier to write about a specific cheese than others. Today is one of those easy days. Instead of rambling on about some cheese story, fact or legend to pad my blog post, I actually have too much information. Way too much. It turns out that despite the fact I have never heard of today’s cheese-Manchego-just about everyone else on the internet has and has an opinion.
Manchego is a dearly beloved and historic Spanish cheese made of sheep’s milk. It comes in both a farmhouse, unpasteurized version, and an industrial pasteurized. Mine is the pasteurized, alas. Machego is made only in La Mancha, Spain, which is where Don Quixote was also from, the man-and the cheese, from La Mancha!
Manchego is an ancient cheese with a many thousand-year old history. Archaeological evidence from the Bronze age on the Iberian peninsula shows evidence of Manchego cheese making, so let’s take a minute to respect the serious history of this cheese! Really, Bronze age cheese, that’s really something. Manchego is a DOP cheese-of course. In order to get the coveted DOP designation-this cheese has to be made from a specific sheep , aged for more than two months, and aged in natural caves found only in this region-which as you can imagine must just must be stuffed full of cheese!
If the Manchego comes out of the cave between three and six months it’s called ” Manchego Curado” -semi-cured and it’s quite a mild young sweet thing. Wait a little longer, let’s say a YEAR before digging that cheese out of your cave and you have “Manchego Viejo”-old Manchego, solid and intense with a raunch factor through the roof.
This is a sheep’s milk cheese, which makes it kind of special to me. Think of how little a sheep is, that takes a lot of milking to produce the same volume as a cow. Sheep are sweet and darling, their pupils go vertically, not horizontally like a horrid goat. They make wool, and lamb chops, and nice cheese. Sheep are good! Manchego cheese is only made from the milk of the Manchega sheep which has roamed this area, lactating happily, for thousands of years. The DO board controls the breeding of the sheep and the pasture lands they graze on to make sure the milk is consistent.
My little tapas slice of Manchego is the third in my Trader Joe’s Spanish Tapas trio: Iberico, Drunken Goat and Manchego. Iberico was mixed cow, sheep and goat, Drunken Goat was all goat, and this one is all sheep. It has a creamy white interior with no eyes. I suspect this is the curado version of the cheese, it’s quite pale and more yielding than an aged cheese. There’s a cross-hatched pattern on the rind that looks a little contrived-quite frankly-like a machine stamped it to look like grass, a little even and perfect for my taste. Maybe I’m just being a bitch. The cheese smells very mild, you have to put it right up to your nose to get a whiff, no raunch factor here at all. Definitely not the aged version.
I’m turned off by the texture right away. This cheese doesn’t want to melt in my mouth, it insists on sitting in crumbled paste form on the tongue, not yielding in the least. Weird. The taste itself is mild and slightly salty-not overly so-it’s pretty insipid although you can faintly taste the sheep. The sheep flavour is quite nutty and toothsome. Really, there’s nothing wrong with the taste, (although overly subtle for me, to tell the truth) but the texture disagrees with me. I want to be in control of the cheese, not the other way around. I feel this cheese is trying to top me, it won’t submit,get down little cheese.
I have decided to stop rating cheeses out of 5. It’s really not fair, all the cheeses I am sampling are great in their own right. I’m simply not going to eat crap cheese for this blog, so what’s the point of a rating system? Taste is a very personal thing, my husband and I disagree on just about every cheese we eat-so how can I rate one on a scale? I shall imply say that I do not care for this cheese. I find it a little insipid and the texture rather horrid, but I do respect the history of Manchego, and I do love me some sheep, so enough tilting at Windmills today.