This is the cheese of La Mancha, Spain’s best-known and most popular worldwide – and also one of its most ancient. Food scribes in Roman times noted the animal husbandry and cheesemaking of Spain’s arid central plain. Manchego is the quintessential representation of a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese. Artisanal, unpasteurized versions can be truly excellent. A young Manchego is milk and even somewhat bland – a worthy sandwich cheese. The best aged ones develop depth and flavor with that pleasant bite and underlying sweetness characteristic of the finest sheep’s milk cheeses. The past is hard and it features the rich, buttery, oily heft and mouthfeel typical of a sheep’s milk cheeses.
My first memory (and most fondest) of Manchego was when I first arrived in Spain in the city of Barcelona. It was my first port of call on my Euro-backpacking trip and I was living on the cheap. I would visit the local grocer every day and just stand in wonder at the number of hanging Spanish hams and the amazing variety of Manchego. The cute little Spanish grandma who worked behind the desk let me try a new block of cheese each day. I recall being amazed at how one cheese can have so many different flavors and textures. The youngest of the bunch reminded me of a soft havarti where the older more expensive varieties seemed cousin to Pecorino and Parmeggiano Reggiano. I love to eat this cheese with roasted almonds, dried figs and a glass of Cava.