Cheese, and more specifically Manchego, is entrenched in the gastronomic culture of Castilla-La Mancha. In the masterful work of Miguel de Cervantes El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha one finds many allusions to cheese, the basic food of the saying “con pan, queso y vino se anda el camino” (loosely translated to “with bread, cheese, and wine, one walks the road”).
Manchego is made from the milk of Manchegan sheep, which is the type of sheep that has maintained its purity and is adapted to grazing in arid regions. An imprint of a flower is always stamped into the flat side of the Manchego cheese and the “pleita” (braided fibers) on the other side. Molds made from esparto were originally used to shape the cheese, but plastic molds are the current preferred method of creating the cheese in its classic form.
Manchego is a fatty cheese with a hard rind on the outside that holds the typical stamp of the flower and “pleita.” The inside is firm and compact with little, irregular holes, and the cheese can vary in color from ivory white to a slightly yellow color. Its characteristic flavor and aroma correlate with the amount of time it has been aged. The cheese needs at least 60 days to acquire the sharpest notes with the most mature flavor.
From ancient times, the inhabitants of the region have been dedicated to the art of raising sheep and making cheese, even since the primitive times, which is evidenced by all of their bowls, perforated vessels, molds, and other tools that one can find in museums for cheese production. The cheese is mentioned in El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha and in the 1878 work Explotación y Fabricación de las Leches, Mantecas y Quesos de Diferentes Clases, by Balaguer and Primo, in which one of the chapters dedicated to the main cheeses of Spain highlights mainly Manchego.
The region of production is made up of numerous towns in the region of La Mancha, which consists of Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, and Toledo. The Manchega region has both mountains and plains, but pastures and the other agricultural sites complement each other to form part of the supply of ovine cattle. La Mancha has an arid, continental Mediterranean climate and varying temperatures; it has hot, dry summers and hard winters.
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