P.D.O Manchego: The history of an ancient cheese

Manchego is one of the world’s cheeses with the most valuable history and heritage. But, what makes Manchego such special product?

The worldwide known cheese variety means more than just a style of chees

Manchego is one of the world’s cheeses with the most valuable history and heritage. The Spanish unique cheese is made exclusively from whole milk of the Manchega sheep, a breed that is only raised in La Mancha region, and which has been raised there since ancient times. Although it isn’t known the specific origin, Pre-Historic men and women already enjoyed the pleasures of fine Manchego cheese. Archeological remains dating back to the Bronze age show that the inhabitants of La Mancha used to make a sheep’s milk cheese with the milk of a race of sheep that’s considered the ancestor of the modern Manchega sheep with strict traditional methods followed in its creation.

But, what makes Manchego such special product?

Manchego cheese can only be made in La Mancha. However, this doesn’t mean though that all the cheeses from La Mancha can be called Manchego – a mistake often made by many – as the label is only reserved for the very best. The authentic PDO Manchego cheese production come from a comprise 3.4 Million acres, distributed amongst the four provinces of Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca and Toledo — territory that offers the unique qualities for the production of fine Manchego cheese. This pastoral region, located at Spain’s heart, is known worldwide as homeland of the literary character Don Quixote. It is home to unique flora where the Manchega sheep roams. Its dry and extreme climate with torrid summers and frosty winters has given shape to a very recognizable landscape. Herbs such as thyme, lavender or rosemary, and a wide variety of thickets and bushes, form this unique ecosystem where the Manchega sheep roams.

Always following a strict creation method, Manchego cheese has also visual key features that help consumer to identify it. One of the most recognizable is the cheese mold. Made traditionally with a material called esparto –a type of grass found in the Southern part of the Iberian Peninsula- Manchego cheese has imprinted a distinctive zig-zag pattern –known as pleita- on the inedible rind as well as a distinctive form on both upper and lower faces – called flor – with two highlighted marks on it which divide the cheese into four equal parts. As the regulating council oversees every single aspect of the cheese making process – from the Manchega sheep’s diet to the final aging of each cheese – top quality consistency is achieved in every single Manchego. This high control certification routine and the increase of fake Manchego cheese production motivated that, as many other European finest products, Manchego cheese belongs to the exclusive club of the Protected Designation of Origin gourmet foods – PDO in admin jargon. This legal frame was created by the EU to protect the reputation of quality regional foods, promote rural development and support agricultural activity. The consumer can verify it is real Manchego Cheese via the PDO label attached to every piece of Manchego Cheese – it includes the Manchego logo and the serial number-, as well as through the casein tab printed on the bottom of it.

Well-established tradition

Manchego unmistakable taste that evolves to spicy in most aged cheeses, can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.  It is the favorite and most consumed cheeses with P.D.O in Spain. Manchego is very easy to store and preserve. 

Spaniards usually eat Manchego as a “tapa” or a starter before lunch but it is also a key ingredient for preparation of delicious plates. Together with a glass of wine or a beer and accompanied by freshly baked bread, Manchego brings the perfect flavors to get the taste buds ready for a Mediterranean feast.

 

January 7, 2015

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María Moreno

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maria@wearemint.com

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