What is Manchego?
Manchego is perhaps the most common sheep’s milk cheese available in the UK, perhaps the most reliable but also perhaps the most variable in quality.
It is a Spanish staple from the La Mancha region, made from milk from the Manchego breed of and carries its own PDO. Always in a drum format of about 1.5kg, it is available from many producers at many ages and many prices.
All Manchego’s are not equal, so knowing what you are buying is essential. It has been described as Spain’s cheddar and is ubiquitously available in supermarkets.
Matured sheep’s cheeses are characteristically sweet, nutty and dry, but some Manchegos are too young to do that. In cheese young is cheap, and supermarkets like cheap.
This post tells you what you need to know to make the right Manchego choice.
Why have Manchego on your table?
Here are six good reasons:
- It is delicious!
- The best producers are some of the best cheesemakers in Spain
- It is sheep’s milk and you need diversity on your cheeseboard
- Sheep’s milk cheeses are expensive, and relatively Manchego is good value
- Tapas is delicious, and you can’t have tapas without manchego
- It has a lot of distinctive characteristics, such as its pale paste, small holes, dark rind with the hatched patterning making it attractive for your cheeseboard
- Many people, perhaps you, are avoiding cow’s milk. Manchego is a great non-cow’s milk staple
Three facts that may be true:
- Cheesemaking in La Mancha from sheep’s milk dates back over 3000 years
- Miguel de Cervantes mentions it in Don Quixote of La Mancha.
- Manchego is higher in protein than meat
Charlie’s top tips: How to buy a good piece of Manchego
Here are my two golden rules:
- Always taste before you buy (if you can)
All cheeses are affected by their whole journey, not just who made them. The season of making, the weather on the day, who by and how they were matured, how long they will in the chill chain (chilled transport system) for.
- Buy your wedge cut off from a big cheese (if you can)
All cheeses like to stay whole as long as possible to keep their moisture levels right and avoid packaging damage such as pickling and vac pack pressing.
Is Manchego suitable for pregnant and immunity fragile people?
I always point to the British NHS guidelines as they are trusted by a lot more people than me. But it if you do want to know my view, Semi-curado, curado and viejo Manchego are all ok as being hard cheeses tat can not support listeria, the main risk in this context.
Have I missed anything?
If you have suggestions about this post, know of any other producers or alternatives comment somewhere on the socials.
I just see, that there is one important point missing in your article, and I probably made the confusion even greater.
The times for maturing I added is not from the PDO Regulatory Council but from the Spanish Government and applies to ANY type of cheese produced in Spain.
The PDO Manchego does not define any specific times beyond those of the Spanish Government.
BUT it defines the MINIMUM TIME FOR MATURING, being 30 days for those smaller than 1,5 kg (uncut) and 60 days for thos above 1,5 kg (uncut)
In general, a typical 3 kg Manchego PDO should have a minimum of 60 days.
I have seen in the UK younger cheese branded as Manchego which are clearly a FAKE! They have the casein plate and the round yellow DOP stamp, but there is no anagram with a serial number in them, which is the only sign that is truly applied by the Regulatory Council and not self-declared by the producer.
This is really an important point.
For any doubts on this, do not hesitate in calling me.
The only cheese that can be legally called Manchego, and is not certified by the CRDO (Regulatory Council) is the Mexican Manchego – and as far as I know only in Mexico.
Anything that is not certified by the CRDO Manchego Cheese and states Manchego can be denounced, and the CRDO will advice them to withdraw the product from the market. It goes even further. You can neither use any symbolism or wording that may induce confusion.
This happend recently to one of our producer in La Mancha who used the iconography of a horse with a man and a stick – that looked very much like a Don Quixote. They were 2 years in court fighting and lost against the CRDO. They had to take all their products from the shelf.
So far, controls where quite lax, but they will increase.
In my personal opinion, beyond the legal aspect, I consider it simply pure marketing. In Spain there are 26 types of cheese with Protected Denomination of Origin. Besides this, there are great cheese without PDO. At Sanabria Cheese we produce Iberico, Sheep and goat cheese and mixed-milk cheeses which are as delicious as the Manchego.
That’s like calling a Porsche, Lamburguini – why would you do that?
But consumers should not be cheeted. If you want to support our rural communities and ecosystem, buy real Manchego.
And if you like the specific and unique taste of Manchego, now, you know what to look for.
Thanks, Tabea. I have added an amendment to include the fact that Tierno / Fresh cannot be Manchego PDO! – Your input is much appreciated.
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