Age is something that doesn't matter, unless you are a cheese.
According to The Oxford Companion to Cheese, Manchego is the most popular Spanish cheese, and accounts for more than 30 per cent of all traditional cheese production in the country. If you have not already fallen in love with one of three pillars of Spanish cuisine, you may have possibly seen it on tapas plates among other cheeses.
This sheep milk poster cheese made according to PDO (DOP) guidelines and is the perfect gastronomic ambassador, a real archetype of Spanish culture, like Parmigiano Reggiano is of Italian or Roquefort is of French. Manchego cheese, or queso manchego can only be produced in La Mancha province, became world famous thanks to Don Quioxte and his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza. As you may remember, they both nibbled on cheese prior to tilting at windmills in Cervantes’ novel. Located in the heart of the mainland, La Mancha region and its sophisticated cuisine are well-appreciated discovery for the gastro-traveller.
Manchego is piquant, lightly savoury and has a greasy-looking hard-cover. It’s production involves different techniques to keep it in a time-honored manner – for instance, the curd was pressed into plaited esparto grass baskets, which lent a unique zig-zag pattern on the rind. Nova days the esparto grass baskets have been replaced with modern molds, yet designed in a manner to replicate the authentic grass imprint.
There are several types of Manchego, depending on ageing. In Europe in general, wheels of cheese are classified according to their age, ranging from two-week fresco to semicurado (three weeks to four months), curado (three to six months), and añejo, or Viejo (one to two years). However, in the United States Manchego is usually advertised by its numerical age, according to additional time a certain cheese container spent on a road. In turn, American customers may be misleaded and confused by designations.
The delicate, buttery fresco is normally just a few weeks old. Semicurado is aged for up to four months and has more solid texture, although still moderate flavour. Manchego curado has more complicated taste with the beginnings of sugary dairy and nutty essences. This is fully pronounced in Viejo cheeses, which are aged for a year or more and have a long mature aroma and aftertaste.
When we discuss our diet rules and everyday’s menu, we often think about our children since we want them to grow energetic, active and healthy. At the same time, on a contrary, we quite seldom linking it to eating manner of our ancestors when, according to fresh research, we should care more about them. Our table habits become more natural and critical on a parallel course with elderness. Just remember: giving to our parents more natural nutritious, we maintain their sharper minds, helping them to avoid Alzheimer and increase their lifespans.
Manchego is a complex dairy product which combines the superb nutritional values. It is got plenty of protein and almost no carbs – good for building muscles – and a huge amount of calcium – perfect for building bone strength. Manchego also has basic vitamins as A, D and E, which are keys to metabolic processes such as tissue preservation and calcium absorption. Due to these benefits, Manchego cheese is a highly recommended food for seniors, but also for children and teenagers.
Although Manchego can be enjoyed in plenty of ways, from pizza and polenta to salads and smoky quiche. Also, it is globally recognized by fundamental position on classic Spanish tapas platter. These small, delightful portions or chunks of snacks, offered personally or in groups as a composed meal, are more than food, more than a dinner. They are rather a model of Mediterranean lifestyle. Generally served with wine or stronger beverages, tapas stand for casual dining in an easy-going mood, where live small talks and intense debates flourish among family members and friends.
Say, everyone knows tapas. And all of us love them. But do you know where tapas originated from? History of culture teaches us the story about tired travellers, landed from their coaches and horses, just to be met by restless inn-keepers with glasses of wine, covered with a small slice of bread or cheese. In Spanish language, these wine-covers were referred to tapa, derivated from infinitive verb tapar, meaning to cov-er. This tapa, or cheese slice kept dust and insects away from wine at the same time stimulating hungry travelelrs appetite. This is exactly how lime slices work in Corona beer bottles necks.
From this simple feature tapas had started their evolution over the time. A slice of Jamón Serrano, a piece of Manchego cheese with pickled green olives were added later as top-pings: hostesses were keen to attract customers by offering sophisticated appetizers, luring the latter to taste the main course.
Today there are thousands of tapas combinations, and every bar in Spain literally has its own versions and little food masterpieces, depending on season, region, or restaurant specialities. Nevertheless, something always remains the same: Manchego cheese as an Ambassador of Spain, and it will always be a must-have ingredient in any Spanish tapas assortment. Centuries later right things never go out of fashion.
Keep it all Spanish with Pedro Ximénez sherry – the wine’s raisin notes marry with the mature cheese’s sweet, meaty flavours. And, of course, you need some wine for tasting. Something full-body is the best to give it a chance against the strong Manchego – a Rioja Tempranillo is the perfect companion. It also pairs well with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese wines.