Because of the heat and humidity I haven’t had many opportunities to make cheese lately. I’m missing my hobby, that’s for sure. However, a couple of weeks back we had a day break in this stifling Georgia summer and I happened to have a couple extra gallons of milk on hand, so I spent the day making a type of cheese called manchego, and boy and I ever glad I did – it’s my new favorite!
Manchego is traditionally a sheep’s milk cheese (from the manchego sheep) that’s native to the Toledo plain of Spain. The cheese is very creamy and comes in four distinctive stages of ripeness. Manchego fresca is aged for 5 days or fewer. Manchego curado is aged for 3 – 12 weeks. Manchego viejo is aged for 3 – 12 months. And Manchego aceite is aged in olive oil for more than a year. This type of cheese is also a brined cheese, which means that no extra salt is added to the curds before pressing, but the entire pressed wheel is soaked for several hours in a saturated brine solution and then oiled for aging (instead of being waxed).
The process of making this type of cheese is similar to that of cheddar, Monterey jack, and other hard cheeses. As this was my first batch of manchego I used cow’s milk and not sheep’s milk (Vestal and Gabi aren’t in production yet anyway), however the finished product was still awesome, if not a bit on the mild side. One of the things I love about traditional manchego is the distinctive sweet, nutty flavor. Sheep’s milk is very sweet and creamy, and it contains twice the butterfat as the same volume of cow’s and/or goat’s milk, which also produces a higher yielding cheese.
**Fun Trivia Fact: In the U.S. the majority of manchego produced is made with cow’s milk as dairy sheep are uncommon.**
As with many cheeses, manchego uses a hot-water bath method, however I must confess, I didn’t follow the instructions entirely (imagine that!). I have a very difficult time with the whole fill the sink with hot water routine so I decided to create a water jacket. I placed my pressure canner pot on the stove and then nestled my stockpot inside of it, leaving about an inch space between the two pots. It worked perfectly, and was much less wasteful in the water department as well. I felt I was able to obtain a much more consistent temperature throughout the cooking process, which resulted in a creamier wheel of cheese.
Homemade manchego is definitely our new favorite cheese, and once the girls are in production I’ll likely be making extra to sell in our farm store – so stay tuned. Yum!