Manchego originates in the La Mancha region of central Spain. It is obtained from the milk of the Manchega sheep. This breed of sheep, which grazes in the pastures of central Spain, provides the basis for this semi-hard cheese with a sweet aroma, whose rind has a characteristic herringbone pattern. The balanced cheese flavor palette of Manchego ranges from tart and fruity and nutty to spicy and tangy. Because Manchego is traditionally aged in molds made of braided grass, which is a unique characteristic of this type of cheese, its contrasting aroma is also reminiscent of dried herbs.
Authentic Manchego is only made from the Manchego sheep's milk. Manchego cheese is made from both pasteurised and unpasteurised milk. The farmhouse version is produced from unpasteurised milk while the industrial version is produced from pasteurised milk.
Manchego already tastes as fresh cheese which gets its first degree of maturity after two months of storage and is still soft and light, after three to six months it is considered curado (matured). Manchego viejo (old), which is much firmer and darker, is stored for at least a year and has a brittle and dry consistency and an intense strong spiciness and sharpness. Another specialty is Manchego preserved in oil, which becomes a culinary delight especially with the addition of herbs such as rosemary.
The Spaniard enjoys the cheese as dessert with honey refined to fruit or compote and cut as addition to tapas variations. The firm, ripened Manchego is also excellent as grated cheese, refines casseroles, as it dissolves well - but Manchego, in all ripening variations, is best enjoyed simply pure.