Manchego is a Spanish sheep's milk cheese that has PDO status, meaning that it can only be produced in certain provinces within the region of La Mancha, south of Madrid, in the country's high central plateau. Spain's most popular cheese, Manchego's texture can vary depending on how long it is aged.
- Made from: Sheep's milk
- Origin: La Mancha region of Spain
- Texture: Semi-soft young; firmer and crumbly aged
- Aged: 30 days to 2 years
- Color: Pale yellow
- Rind: Textured
What Is Manchego Cheese?
Manchego is a semi-soft cheese, pale yellow in color, with a firm and supple texture, a pleasant grassy aroma and a fruity, nutty, tangy and sweet flavor. It has a fat content of up to 57 percent, which contributes to its rich flavor.
Manchego is made in the Spanish provinces of Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, and Toledo, and is available in fresh and aged varieties, although the fresh type is seldom seen outside of Spain. Manchego can be made with either raw sheep's milk or pasteurized. The raw version, known as artesano, retains more of the earthy, grassy, tangy flavor of the sheep's milk.
How Manchego Is Made
In addition to the regional requirement, another requirement for Manchego cheese is that it be made from the milk of the Manchega breed of sheep, and the milk must have a minimum fat content of 6 percent. It's made by curdling sheep's milk using calf's rennet, then gently cutting the curds and pressing them by hand into cylindrical molds. The molds themselves are etched with a pattern that gives Manchego's rind its unique texture, replicating the markings formed by the woven fronds of the grass baskets in which Manchego cheeses were traditionally made.
The molds are pressed, and the resulting wheels of cheese are then brined, after which they are transferred to natural aging caves where they spend anywhere from a month to two years. Brushing the cheese with olive oil helps to form the natural rind, and give the outside of the cheese its color.
Types of Manchego
Manchego cheese is divided into categories which are defined by how long the cheese has been aged. Fresco, the youngest, is aged for no more than two weeks, and is seldom seen outside of Spain. Its flavor is mild, milky and grassy. Semi-curado is aged for anywhere from three weeks to three months, and has a firmer, but still pliable texture. Curado is aged for at least six months, and has a mild, nutty flavor and slight crumbliness. Manchego viejo is aged for at least one year, and has a crumbly texture, and a deep, zesty, tangy flavor.
Since Manchego is a sheep's milk cheese, the closest substitute is going to be another sheep's milk cheese. Other Spanish sheep's milk cheeses you could substitute include Zamorano, Idiazabel and Roncal.
Pecorino Romano is an Italian sheep's milk cheese that, like Manchego, can be aged for different lengths of time, with similar effects on its texture and flavor. You might be most familiar with the more mature version of Pecorino, which is relatively hard and often grated over pasta. And if your recipe calls for Manchego viejo, this would be your best substitute. But if your recipe calls for curado or semi curado, you should also be able to find Pecorino cheeses that are aged an equivalent amount.
If you're looking to stick with cow's milk rather than sheep's, Asiago would be another decent substitute, along with Gouda, Swiss, or a mild white cheddar. But again, it depends on whether you're subbing a young, soft Manchego or a mature, hard one.
One of the most traditional uses of Manchego is in Spanish tapas, where it is often paired with Serrano ham, marinated olives and bread.
Manchego can be enjoyed as is, or paired with sun-dried tomatoes, olives or figs, as well as nuts like almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts. Or simply enjoy with your favorite crackers or crusty bread. More mature Manchego is ideal for grating over vegetables or pasta.
Because it is a relatively high-fat cheese, Manchego doesn't melt well. Certain Mexican cheeses, known as "quesos tipo Manchego," are good melting cheeses, but these are cow's milk cheeses that bear little similarity to true Manchego.
Wrap Manchego cheese tightly in parchment, waxed, or butcher paper and store in the cheese drawer of your refrigerator, where it can last for up to six weeks.
Substitute Manchego for Pecorino in any of these recipes:
Can You Eat the Rind?
Manchego cheese is traditionally made by brushing the outside of the wheel of cheese with olive oil during the aging process, and in these cases, the rind is completely edible. There are some varieties of Manchego, however, that have a thin, glossy coat of wax painted over the natural rind. Eating this isn't harmful, but it isn't recommended either. To be certain, ask your cheesemonger whether you can eat the rind of the specific Manchego you're purchasing.