Still looking for the perfect starter? You’ve found it here! Watercress salad with red grapes and, of course, our favorite cheese: Manchego. You won’t be able to resist it!
What you need:
- 6 ozs watercress
- 30 red grapes
- 5 cherry tomatoes
- 1 (1/2-pound) piece Manchego cheese
- 2 tbsps of almonds (toasted)
- 1 tbsp red onion
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
- Take the red grapes and the tomatoes, wash, dry and cut them in half and then in half again.
- Use a food processor: add 20 chopped grapes, the red onion, vinegar, honey and olive oil to make the dressing.
- Marinate the 10 grapes left with 2 tbsp of dressing for 10 minutes.
- Cut the Manchego cheese in slices.
- Cut the almonds in slices and toast them.
- Place the watercress in a bowl with the tomatoes, the marinated red grapes and the almonds. Drizzle the prepared dressing all over the salad.
- Top the salad with some slices of Manchego cheese.
Who doesn’t love a sandwich of melted cheese? Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.
The question is: is every cheese equally suitable for melting? Furthermore, is Manchego a good cheese to melt?
As Liz Thorpe, a cheesemonger from NY, author of “The cheese chronicles”, says, Manchego belongs to the family of “Pressed” cheeses – one of the six families of cheeses she identifies.
According to Liz, pressed chesses have deliciously tangy, grassy and inherently “cheesy” flavors which fade away during the cooking process. Also, being a sheep’s milk cheese, Manchego has twice the fat of a cow or goat cheese, which means that it softens into a greasy slab when exposed to heat.
Therefore, if we want to enjoy the true flavors of a fine Manchego, the authentic one, we should avoid melting it.
The trouble is that the Mexican “quesos tipo Manchego” – those cheeses that are nothing like real Manchego but misuse its name – are often melted in quesadillas. Since they are often industrial cheeses, not even made with sheep’s milk, they are perfectly fine to melt, unlike the authentic one.
So beware of any melted Manchego dishes. Chances are that they’re prepared using fake Manchego cheeses.
Yes, amigos, in this story “the proof of the Manchego is in the melting”.
You’ve been reading this blog and want to buy Manchego but are not sure what to look for. Here’s an easy guide in 3 steps.
Step 1. Know how Manchego looks like.
Manchego, as any product with such a long history behind it, has a very recognizable appearance. It comes in big wheels of about 6 to 7 pounds – a delicious exercise regime could be buying two wheels and carrying one in each hand! The indedible rind shows a traditional basketweave pattern. The top and bottom are also pressed with patterns and divided by lines into four equal parts. Very recognizable, isn’t it?
Step 2. Make sure it’s Manchego.
With such a recognizable appearance, many people forget to look for a proof of authenticity. Note that patterns and sizes are easy to copy and so the market is full of fakes. Beware and always make sure you’re buying the real stuff and not a “Manchego-style” cheese that will set you up for a disappointment. There are a few tips (see previous posts) but, if you’re in a hurry and don’t want to make a fuss at the shop, just look at the back of the wheel. There you should find an official D.O. tab labeling it Manchego. Without that, the cheese is a fake!
Step 3. Choose your Manchego type.
Nowadays there are many types of Manchego (real Manchego) available in US stores. First of all, since Manchego can be aged from 2 months to up to 2 years, there’s a wide repertoire of aging times and therefore tasting notes. Second of all, there are dozens of certified cheesemongers producing Manchego cheese, each of them adding his personal touch to the final product. Finally, being such a versatile cheese, Manchego can be used in many recipes so knowing how you’re planning to eat the cheese could also guide your decision.
As you see, the possibilities are endless so have fun, try them all and be ingenious!
It’s a well-known fact that well aged Manchego cheeses go incredibly well with fine reds – I’ve talked about this on previous posts.
What most people don’t know is that young Manchegos are an equally great match with crisp and grassy whites such as Verdejo.
Verdejo wines are aromatic, often soft and light-bodied. They smell like a big bowl of citrus and green apples. Lovely, isn’t it? And it’s actually this fruitiness what makes for a great combination with Manchego – As you probably know by now, fruity flavors make a perfect contrast with our beloved cheese.
Although Verdejo is produced in other regions, the most well known are from Rueda, a small region North of La Mancha and the city of Madrid, just West of the Ribera del Duero.
Rueda wines are nowadays widely available across the US. So if you are a Manchego fan and love the zing of your usual Sauvignon Blanc but are ready to branch out, then you should try your favorite cheese with a glass of Verdejo.
Continuing with the string of tasty and healthy recipes with Manchego, today I bring you a salad that – unlike others – is full of personality.
The gutsy contrast of assertive greens with the sweet caramel, the slivers of Manchego, the wild raddish and the walnuts; will surely impress your guests.
What you need:
- 1 head of green or red leaf lettuce
- 1 (1/2-pound) piece Manchego cheese, rind removed and cheese shaved into thin slices (preferably with a cheese plane)
- 4 oz chopped walnuts
- 4 oz wild radish
- 3 oz brown sugar
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
- Wash and dry lettuce and tear into pieces. Arrange lettuce on a large platter.
- Sprinkle walnuts and chopped wild radish over lettuce.
- Cut the Manchego cheese in slices and place them in a grill – this can be done either using the microwave or a medium-heat oven.
- Sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the cheese slices and grill them for 5 to 10 minutes until the cheese is caramelized on top.
- Dress salad by drizzling vinegar and olive oil all over.
If you were to enjoy Manchego with a glass of wine, any wine, what type of wine would you go for?
I’m sure most of you will reach for a fine bottle of Spanish red wine. And you know what? Probably that would be an excellent choice.
As a hard, slightly oily and robust cheese, Manchego pairs brilliantly well with Spanish red wines, from medium-bodied to giant reds.
It’s specially a perfect match with another fine export of Spain, Tempranillo.
Tempranillo, a vibrant and aromatic varietal, is arguably the most famous of Spain’s native grapes. Grown all over the country, also in La Mancha but most famously in the Rioja, Priorat and Ribera del Duero regions, Tempranillo’s lively red fruit and noted dryness offer the perfect background to the prominent flavors of our beloved cheese.
Did you know that Tempranillo translates to “little early one”? Yes, apparently this varietal has a tendency for early ripening as thrives even with a short growing season.
When you think about it, all of it makes sense. A cheese that requires up to two years to mature and a grape that ripens “too quickly”. Patience and passion hand in hand. No wonder they make a perfect marriage!
The way we eat is determined by our culture.
The way we eat cheese even more so.
Spaniards usually eat Manchego as a “tapa” or a starter BEFORE lunch. Together with a glass of wine or a beer and accompanied by freshly-baked bread, Manchego brings the perfect flavors to get the taste buds ready for a Mediterranean feast.
French, on the other hand, enjoy cheese AFTER every meal. A tray of fine cheeses normally follows the main course. Sometimes these cheeses are presented as dessert, in which case fresh fruit or/and fruit spreads may go on the side. In other occasions a sweet dessert follows – as for the French sucré must always follow salé.
To make things even more complicated, British would never offer a sweet dessert after the cheese. As they’ve learnt to enjoy cheese with a glass of the rich fortified wine they invented, for them cheese should always mark the end to any bohemian evening.
Then, what should we Americans do? The solution is pretty simple: Let’s take the best of all cultures and enjoy Manchego before and after, day and night.