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Manchego is undoubtedly Spain's most famous cheese. It is made
only on the plain of La Mancha from the milk of the Manchega
sheep which graze on the shrubs and grasses of the Dahesa and
produce a thick, aromatic milk that gives Manchego a unique
and distinctive character. The true Manchego cheese is made
only from whole milk of the Manchega sheep raised in the "La
Mancha" region. This region is a vast high plateau, more
than 600 meters above sea level, which extends from east to
west and north to south, adjoining the provinces of Toledo,
Cuenca, Ciudad Real and Albacete, all in the Castile-La Mancha
Region southeast of Madrid. Originally the rinds of the Manchego's
bore the impressions of the plaited esparto grass baskets into
which the shepherds hand pressed the curds and of the flowers
that were placed on top. Nowadays the same patterns are imparted
by the moulds in which the cheeses are pressed.
Manchego cheese production
Manchego is an aged cheese, from semi-cured
to cured, made only with milk from manchega sheep breed, unpasteurised
or pasteurised. It is produced through an enzimatic coagulation.
The paste is pressed and uncooked.
The base milk has to have a minimun of 6%
fat. The milk coagulates at 28 to 32 º C after adding animal
curd. Occasionally lactic ferments and calcium salts are also
added. This results in a compact curdle within 45 to 60 minutes.
The curdle must then be cut to obtain lumps of 5 to 10 mm. (1/5"
to 2/5"). The resulting lumpy paste is then slowly reheated
to about 40ºC (104ºF) The liquid is removed and the
dried paste put into molds where it is pressed for several hours.
The salting is external and is achieved either by rubbing with
dry salt, by immersing the cheese in highly salted water, or
by a combination of both methods. The percentage of the salt
in the weight of the cheese can not be higher than 2.3% after
two months of aging.
The aging process must be done in fresh areas,
with a humidity level of 75 to 85%, for at least 60 days. The
rind is closed, clean well engraved, of a yellow to a brownish
beige colour. The interior is firm and compact, closed, with
a few small air pockets unevenly spread. The color is ivory
to pale yellow. The taste is very characteristic, well developed,
but not too strong, buttery and slightly piquant, with an sheep
milk aftertaste. The shape is cylindrical, with flat top and
bottom surfaces engraved with the tipical "flower"
left by the wooden presses. The sides show a zigzag pattern
produced by the mat-weed (esparto) of the moulds. Today, industrially
produced cheeses have the same engraving, predesigned in the
new industrial moulds.
Manchego cheese links: Cheese