What Is Manchego Cheese Made from?
Manchego cheese of the La Mancha region in Spain is considered one of the most popular kinds of cheese in Europe as well as on earth, but what is Manchego cheese made from? Manchego cheese is made from sheep’s milk, particularly the milk of sheep specifically grown in La Mancha region called the Manchega sheep. Manchego cheese can practically be made from the milk of any breeds of sheep, but true Manchego cheese must be made only from the milk of Manchega sheep. Because this cheese is made only in particular towns in Spain, it becomes exceptionally expensive at places far from Spain and many people often substitute it with other similar kinds of cheese.
Where Does Manchego Cheese Come from?
The origin of Manchego cheese is protected by both the Spanish Denomination de Origen regulation and the European Protected Designation of Origin regulation. These regulations basically determine the precise characteristics that a specific kind of cheese must have in order to be called Manchego cheese. There are several requirements that must be met for a cheese to be called Manchego cheese.
- It must be made in the La Mancha region, which stretches from the Mountainous region of Toledo to the western ridge of Cuenca.
- It must be made from the whole milk of a breed of sheep called Manchega sheep. When you ask, what is Manchego cheese made from, Manchego cheese can be called true Manchego cheese only if it is made from the milk of Manchega sheep. Traditionally, Manchego cheese is made from raw milk or unpasteurized milk; however, it is also possible to make Manchego cheese using pasteurized milk. The superior artesano cheese is always made from raw milk.
- The Manchega sheep whose milk is used in the production of Manchego cheese must be grown, raised, and nurtured in registered farms to ensure and protect the genuineness of the breed and subsequently the cheese.
- Manchego cheese requires aging, whose length ranges from 30 days to two years. The aging length will determine the flavor of the cheese, with the caramel-tasting Curado cheese being aged for about 3 to 6 months and the sharper Viejo cheese being aged between 1 and 2 years. Milder variants, including Fresco and Semicurado, which are aged between 2 weeks to 4 months, are not always technically regarded as true Manchego cheese.
- The production process of Manchego cheese requires the use of a cylindrical mold for pressing. The regulation requires that this mold be at most 12 centimeters high by 22 centimeters in diameter.
- Only certain additives, including rennet, salt, and another approved enzyme, can be added during Manchego cheese’s production process.
How Is Manchego Cheese Made?
By asking, what is Manchego cheese made from, you should already know that the milk is the primary ingredient of this cheese. You can use any other kinds of milk, even cow’s milk if you want to try to make this cheese at home, but it will not be called true Manchego cheese.
The production process of Manchego cheese can be explained as follows.
- It starts with warming the whole milk at a temperature degree of 30 °C or 86 °F. Approved additives can be added while the warm milk is being stirred. If you want to make the cheese at home, the additives that you can add include calcium chloride, mesophilic II culture, and thermophilic B culture that have been dissolved in ¼ cup of water. After adding these additives and stirring the milk to ensure that it mixes with the additives, the pot where the mixture is warmed should be covered for about 45 minutes while still being left warmed at a constant temperature degree.
- After this warming session, the cover is removed and other additives, including rennet and lipase powder that has been dissolved in ½ cup of water, are added to and mixed with the milk by stirring the mixture. After about half an hour, the curd should form on the top of the milk.
- The curd is then cut into small pieces and heated at a temperature degree of 40 °C or 104 °F. During the heating process, the curd must be stirred gently to prevent matting. The curd is then separated from the whey and wrapped using cheesecloth.
- The wrapped cheese is pressed lightly (about 7 kilograms or 15 lbs.) in a basket. Traditionally, a grass basket, which gives the cheese’s hard rind its distinctive look, is used for pressing. This light pressing is done for about 30 minutes on both sides of the cheese (top and bottom). Another pressing procedure that lasts about 6 hours with added weight (about 14 kilograms or 30 lbs.) is done afterward.
- The cheese is then put in a brine consisting of 1 kilogram of salt for every gallon of water. The brining process takes about 6 hours at a temperature degree of 13 °C or 55 °F. After being brined and dried, the cheese is ready for the aging process.
Can You Substitute Manchego Cheese with Other Cheese?
When you are asking, what is Manchego cheese made from, and get an answer for it, you should already know that getting a true Manchego cheese is a rather difficult or costly task. You are lucky if you live near the region where it is made because the cheese is available in most markets with reasonable price. But what if you live in a foreign land that is far away from Spain? Instead of buying the imported cheese with a rather expensive price, you can actually substitute it with one of the following kinds of cheese.
Manchego-type cheese is a kind of cheese that is made using the same procedure with real Manchego cheesemaking. This kind of cheese is quite popular in Mexico and Costa Rica, which are basically Hispanic countries with Spanish culture but without the prized Spanish Manchegas.
Asiago cheese has quite similar look and taste with those of Manchego cheese. It is an Italian cheese and it is made from whole cow’s milk instead of sheep’s milk. Its tastes range from mild to sharp depending on how long it ages. It also has a pungent aroma that makes it a delicious kind of cheese to replace Manchego cheese.
English cheddar is a good substitute for Manchego cheese because it is more widely available. Like Asiago cheese, it is also made from cow’s milk. English cheddar is distinguished by its yellow color.