Archaeologists have found evidence dating cheese-making in the La Mancha region of Spain as far back as the Bronze Age. At that time, cheesemakers used milk from sheep that are the ancestors of today’s Manchego sheep, and pressed the curd in esparto grass baskets. These baskets made the unique pattern on the cheese as well as infused a grassy and herb-tinged flavor into the cheese. Today the curd is pressed in cylindrical molds that have a pattern mimicking the traditional grass baskets. Traditionally, only sheep milk has been used in the production of this cheese which creates its very specific flavor. In large commercial production, this cheese is waxed with a brown or black wax to mimic the natural rind color development that happens when it is aged naturally.
At La Verde Oveja, we age this cheese naturally, never using a wax covering. We carefully and lovingly tend to this cheese by wiping it down with brine and olive oil as it ages. The natural color development happens as the specific ripening of molds takes place and get rubbed back into the cheese.
There are a few different varieties of Manchego cheese.
- Manchego fresca is aged as little as two weeks. This version has a very mild and slightly tangy flavor and the rind is semi soft with a yellow to tan in color.
- Manchego semicurado is aged between three weeks and three months. At this stage, the cheese starts to develop more of its rich buttery flavor. The rind is firm and tan in color.
- Manchego curado has been aged between three and six months. It is nearly solid in consistency but does crumble into smaller pieces. It has a mild, nutty flavor with a buttery feel and smooth creaminess. The rind should be naturally darker at this stage.
- Manchego viejo has been aged for over a year. This version is a very solid with a compact consistency that crumbles well. The flavor is deep and zesty with nutty undertones. At this stage of aging a crystalline consistency starts to appear in the cheese. The rind should be very dark and hard at this stage.
Storage of our Manchego cheese depends on your intended purpose for the cheese
- If you want to eat your Manchego as a fresca, during the first month of purchase, then keep it in the original packaging and re-wrap well after opening. Be sure to store it in the cheese or vegetable drawer of your refrigerator.
- If you prefer to continue to age your Manchego cheese and to allow it to ripen, then you should wrap the cheese in a cheese cloth or parchment paper and store it in the warmest section of your refrigerator (usually a bottom drawer) with only moderate humidity. Cheese kept in this manner will continue to age at a natural rate and will not go bad.
For more information on cheese storage information, check out our article “How do I store my Sheep Cheeses?”