True Manchego cheese is made purely from whole milk of the Manchega sheep raised in the "La Mancha" region. La Mancha is a high, dry, and vast, plateau, more than 2000 feet above sea level in Central Spain. Together they form a square that connects the southern provinces of Ciudad Real and Albacete to Toledo, Cuenca, in the heart of Espana.
La Mancha is an agricultural area with some fertile land mixed with rocky outcrops, and an extremely dry climate due to the height of the plateau. The variable rainfall, summer heat and winter frosts mean that the plant life throughout the region is naturally restricted to hardy plants with a tough constitution.
Manchego cheese has a long historic and literary tradition, it was mentioned by Cervantes in the legendary "Don Quixote of La Mancha". Today, there are two types of Manchego cheese: the farmhouse type, or Artisan, made with unpasteurized sheep's milk and the industrial type, made with pasteurized milk. In both cases, however, milk from Manchega sheep is the only type used.
La Mancha is a region with a long live-stock breeding tradition. Wool and animal bones have been found in some archeological sites, as well as different utensils used to produce cheese as early as the Second Century BC.
Early Roman historians wrote about the live-stock farming in the peninsula, especially in "Acampo Espartario", the name given by Romans to the region of La Mancha. Muslims inhabited the area from the Eighth to Eleventh Centuries, naming it "Manyá", meaning "land without water". With time the name would transform into "Mangla" or "Mancla", and finally "Mancha" around the Thirteenth Century.
Manchego has variety of different flavours depending on its age.
- Fresco – the fresh cheese is aged for only 2 weeks, with a rich but mild flavour. Produced in small quantities, it is rarely found outside Spain.
- Curado is a semi-firm cheese aged for three to six months with a sweet and nutty flavour.
- Viejo, aged for one year is firm with a sharper flavour the longer it is aged and a rich deep pepperiness to it.