Manchego (officially Queso Manchego) is a cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheep of the Manchega breed, which is 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 only be made 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.
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