Manchego Cheese or Queso Manchego is cheese which comes from La Mancha, Don Quixote’s land of windmills and the plains in Spain. To give it its proper or full name it should be Castilla-La Mancha. The vast flat area between Andalucia and Madrid. If you haven’t been, you should. Especially if you are a cheese lover because in these days of slow travel and slow food where else is there to eat Manchego Cheese but in its homeland.
La Mancha was named ‘La Mansha‘ by the Moors meaning ‘waterless land’ add to that the very cold winters and incredibly hot, dry summers meant it was a harsh environment where only sheep could thrive in, that hasn’t changed.
What is Manchego Cheese
Now with its own DO protection – ‘Denominación de Origen’ only certain cheeses can be labelled as Manchego. The sheep’s milk must come from special, local ewes, a breed that have roamed these pastures for centuries and the cheese must be aged in caves or cellars.
Classic Manchego is produced from unpasteurized milk and pasteurized milk. As well as this there are different curing times. Manchego cheese is known for its creamy consistency, but the taste and texture depend on whether it is semi-cured – Manchego Curado or the richer Manchego Viejo or Añejo.
There is even a fresh cheese, – Manchego Fresco that is, as it says, very fresh and you can buy it before the aging process is completed, like a cream or spreadable cheese.
Cheese Producers – Queseria Mendoza
A few weeks ago I was invited to La Nava del Barranco a luxurious, exclusive, private estate in Castilla-La Mancha and one of the activities was a cheese tasting – local cheese of course.
Queseria Mendoza is a fourth generation small family firm, with their own flock of sheep, who provided five different cheeses. They produce six including cottage cheese, which we didn’t try, and in my book doesn’t really count as cheese.
Queso Tierno – a mild cheese made from pasteurised sheep’s milk, very pale and soft which is cured for only nine days.
Queso Semicurado – getting more flavour now, this is made from unpasteurised milk with olive oil added and cured for two months. It comes in its our natural rind.
Queso al Romero – a cured cheese, getting flavoursome with hints of rosemary and with a rosemary rind. I liked this.
Queso en Aceite – a soft textured strong semi-cured cheese left in extra virgen olive oil for two months then packaged in oil too.
Queso Añejo – a mature cheese cured for over twelve months, crumblier and very tasty. The ‘Pata Negra’ or ‘Gran Reserva’ of the collection.
As a cheese lover I liked them all, but as I prefer stronger flavours it was the Queso al Romero and the Queso Añejo that won the day.
You can find out more about Queseria Mendoza here and visit their online shop too.
So ‘Is Spain’s Manchego Cheese the Best?’ If it comes from La Mancha it is Manchego (which means someone/thing from La Mancha.) Just because it comes under the DO label or not doesn’t mean it’s better or worse. Manchego is not a definitive cheese, but an area which produces very fine cheese. So really the question is superfluous. Is Manchego cheese the best? There are many, many great cheeses and producers, but who is to say which is the best. For me, that day the mature ‘Añejo’ was the best.