I had my strong espresso this morning, as well as pomegranate, cantaloupe, orange, almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews. All I need now is my Manchego then I am set for hours. The American Cheese Society’s convention hotel in Sacramento featured Manchego every morning with its breakfast buffet, which helped sustain me for hours. This cheese has been one of my top cheese cravings for many years and I wanted to share some wisdom and history with you about a truly marvelous food of which I cannot seem to get enough.
If you ask a cheese lover what their favorite cheese is the name Manchego will come up more often than you might expect, given that there are hundreds of well-known cheese names in the world today. What makes Manchego a favorite is a combination of its many attributes beyond simple deliciousness. A big reason why it never fails taste-wise is that Manchego can tolerate poor handling and temperature abuse better than most others. This is partly because it is a cheese that comes from a region with harsh temperature extremes, so it has evolved to what it is today – a cheese of unparalleled keeping qualities. The long shelf life ensures that the cheese will retain its unique flavors and aromas, and will keep its delectable butter fats, and its sufficient moisture levels providing the pleasant mouthfeel, all held together in a complex protein structure. These qualities are unrivaled in Manchego’s many imitators and cognates. A cheese like today’s Manchego has been produced in the region for millennia but has only recently evolved to the world-class we know today.
The climatic conditions of La Mancha have always been challenging for an agrarian economy, as great as the soils may be. When irrigation was introduced nearly two centuries ago, the vast region became a prime location for agricultural exploits; it also became the “bread basket” of Spain. The one sheep breed that has always been able to thrive through the temperature extremes and arid conditions is the Manchega. The yield is low but the milk quality is high. It is a marvel to recognize how great a milk can be derived from such limited resources.
Now I ask you: What cheese are you craving?
Do you say Sì or No to Manchego?