|Country of origin||Spain|
|Source of milk||sheep|
|Texture||Firm and compact|
|Fat content||6.5% min|
|Protein content||4.5% min|
|Dimensions||max height 12 cm
max diameter 22 cm
|Weight||min 0.4 kg, max 4.0 kg|
|Aging time||min 60 days, max 2 years|
Manchego (officially Spanish: queso manchego, pronounced: [ˈkeso maɲˈtʃeɣo]) is a cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheep of the manchega breed. Official manchego cheese is to be aged for between 60 days and two years.
Manchego has a firm and compact consistency and a buttery texture, and often contains small, unevenly-distributed air pockets. The colour of the cheese varies from white to ivory-yellow, and the inedible rind from yellow to brownish beige. The cheese has a distinctive flavour, well developed but not too strong, creamy with a slight piquancy, and leaves an aftertaste that is characteristic of sheep’s milk.
The designation queso manchego is protected under Spain's Denominación de Origen (DO) regulatory classification system, and the cheese has been granted Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Union.
To be designated as queso manchego, the cheese must satisfy the following requirements:
- It must have been produced in an area that is restricted to designated parts of the provinces of Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca and Toledo that lie within the La Mancha region.
- It can be made only with the whole milk of sheep of the manchega breed that are raised on registered farms within the designated area.
- The cheese must have been aged for a minimum of 60 days (30 days for cheeses weighing up to 1.5 kg) and a maximum of two years.
- The cheese must be produced by pressing in a cylindrical mould that has a maximum height of 12 cm and a maximum diameter of 22 cm.
Manchego cheese can be made from pasteurised or raw milk; if the latter, it may be labelled as artesano (artisan). The only permitted additives are natural rennet or another approved coagulating enzyme, and sodium chloride (salt).
Manufacture and labelling
The moulds in which the cheese is pressed are barrel-shaped. Traditionally, manchego cheese was made by pressing the curd in plaited esparto grass baskets, which left a distinctive zig-zag pattern (known as pleita) on the rind. Today the same effect is achieved by the mould, the inside of which has a design in relief that imparts to the finished cheese an embossed pattern similar to that of woven esparto grass. The top and bottom surfaces of the cheese are impressed with a design of an ear of wheat.
During the maturation process, manchego cheese develops a natural rind. The regulations permit this to be washed, coated in paraffin, dipped in olive oil, or treated with certain approved transparent substances, but require that it must not be removed if the cheese is to be marketed as PDO.
Cheeses that meet the DO requirements carry a casein tab that is applied when the cheese is in the mould and bear a distinctive label that is issued by the Manchego Cheese Denomination of Origin Regulating Council; this carries the legend queso manchego, a serial number, and artwork depicting Don Quixote de La Mancha.
A cheese that is similar to manchego and made in the same region, but from a blend of cow's, goat's, and ewe's milk, is sold as queso ibérico or ibérico cheese.
Manchego has variety of different flavours depending on its age. There are four versions of maturity sold:
- Fresco – the fresh cheese is aged for only 2 weeks, with a rich but mild flavour. Produced in small quantities, it is rarely found outside Spain.
- Semicurado is a semi-firm cheese aged for three weeks to three months, somewhat milder than curado.
- Curado is a semi-firm cheese aged for three to six months with a sweet and nutty flavour.
- Viejo, aged for one year is firm with a sharper flavour the longer it is aged and a rich deep pepperiness to it. It grates well, but can also be eaten on its own or as tapas.
In Mexico and Spanish-speaking areas of the United States, manchego or queso tipo manchego (manchego-type cheese) is the name given to a cow's milk cheese similar in taste to Monterey Jack. It melts well and is often used in quesadillas. Apart from the name, this cheese has little in common with the Spanish variety.
In Costa Rica, two companies (Dos Pinos and Los Alpes) produce a manchego-type cheese (queso tipo manchego) which can come with a drawing of Don Quijote on the labels. One company also makes a manchego-type cheese with basil added. These Costa-Rican cheeses can come dipped in paraffin, and some have the pleita pattern pressed on the side.
- Manchego Cheese Denomination of Origin Regulating Council, retrieved 28 April 2010
- Commission Regulation (EC) No 561/2009, Official Journal of the European Union (Brussels) L166, 27 June 2009: 36–37, retrieved 28 April 2010
- Council Regulation (EC) No 510/2006 – Amendment application pursuant to Article 9 – 'Queso Manchego', Official Journal of the European Union (Brussels) C255, 8 October 2008: 10–15, retrieved 28 April 2010
- Spanish food – Manchego cheese, 2005, retrieved 28 April 2010
- Identification Manchego cheese, retrieved 28 April 2010
- Manchego Cheese PDO
- Spanish-Cheese.co.uk – Types of Spanish Cheese (Queso)
- "Guide to Mexican Cheeses". Gourmet Sleuth. Retrieved 28 April 2010.
- "Los Alpes website". Retrieved 14 June 2010.