THE MANCHEGO CHEESE TRAIL

QUESO_VALDEPENAS-262Many say that cheese is the new wine when it comes to food & drink tourism.

Certainly, if you’re a curious mind like me, the idea of spending a holiday collecting memorable eating and drinking experiences while discovering a unique region, is a captivating one.

The Napa Valley winemakers were the pioneers of this trend. They started promoting the Napa trail in the 70’s, a route that’ now famous worldwide – partially thanks to the 2004 movie “Sideways”. Soon the Spaniards, French, Italians, Australians and the whole lot, took note of the Napa success and started advertising their own routes. BTW – I would love to do them all, why not a worldwide wine trail? Tempting, uh?

Now it seems cheese is taking on the same steps. At both sides of the Atlantic, the trend is confidently gaining pace: the Vermont & Wisconsin trails, the Swiss cheese & chocolate routes, the itineraries in Normandy combining cider & cheese; they all seem fantastic holiday propositions to me!

Also on a sensory level, the Spanish La Mancha region has a lot to offer. On the one hand, the largest vineyard in the world is here; on the other, this is the capital of the delicious and unrivalled Manchego cheese.

A diverse and colorful region, that Lonely Planet describes as “flat, undulating plains of henna-colored earth striped with olive groves, wheat fields and grape vines complemented by the drama of hilltop castles and deep canyons sliced into the landscape”. Isn’t this the perfect set up for an unforgettable culinary vacation?

A region that’s also home to another famous route: the Don Quixote’s pilgrim trail. This path that follows the steps of the famous Cervantes’ classic novel character across 250km includes beautiful sights such as the windmills in Consuegra or Campo de Criptana. Totally recommendable!

So if you can envision a holiday sipping top quality wines, enjoying the taste of fantastic cheeses, and taking in the dramatic (oh, so poetic!) scenery, then the Manchego trail is waiting for you.

THE BLACK SHEEP OF THE FAMILY

consejo087I’m so used to seeing herds of white Manchega sheep roaming around that I was surprised to hear that also in the Manchego family, black sheep exist.

Apparently, these black sheep make up less than 10% of all these animals. Like their white cousins, they also come from the Entrefino breed, and are considered part of the Manchega type of animals.

They’re recognizable for their distinct color and show white spots on their heads and the distal ends of their anatomy. There is no difference however in the quality of the milk the two varieties produce – Always excellent stuff!

Also, their average milk production, about 26.4 gallons (about 100 liters) per animal a year shows similar values in white and black varieties, being in both cases markedly seasonal during the months of April, May and June.

Different outside, equal inside. The black sheep of this family are nothing to be ashamed of!

DON QUIXOTE’S FAVORITE SNACK

Don Quixotes & Manchego cheeseAs you probably know, the Spanish region of La Mancha is known for two reasons: Manchego cheese and Don Quixote.

What you might not know is that both were very much connected already in the XVII century, when Miguel de Cervantes wrote the famous novel.

Yes, already at that time, Manchego was a popular food.

And so both witty squire Sancho Panza and fantasy knight Don Quixote spend many pages of the famous novel nibbling on Manchego cheese and washing it down with generous amounts of La Mancha wines.

The truth is that probably it was Miguel de Cervantes himself who found inspiration in the delectable cheese when writing the celebrated pages.

So go and fetch yourself some Manchego together with a glass of wine and let your creative juices flow. If it worked for him perhaps it works for you too!

A BLUE-BLOODED SHEEP

Manchego ewes  www.themanchegocheese.comRachel is a Hebrew name which means “ewe, female sheep”.

I was told this story being a child and so have always felt a special connection with these peaceful and social animals.

There’s nothing more relaxing than seeing a little lamb nursing or a group of sheep resting together under the trees.

As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, true Manchego cheeses can only be made with milk from the Manchega type of sheep.

Like many Northerners do nowadays, the ancestors of this unique breed crossed the Pyrenees and various regions of Spain, to eventually settle down in the sunny & peaceful plateau of La Mancha.

There, our fleecy friends found the home they had been looking for (just like me!), put their wandering, migratory days behind and became a sedentary breed faithful to the land that was to adopt them forever.

LA MANCHA: THE WATERLESS LAND

Manchego Cheese www.themanchegocheese.comAs most of you will know, all Manchego cheeses come from La Mancha. 

This doesn’t mean though that all the cheeses from La Mancha can be called Manchego – a mistake often made by many – as the label is only reserved for the very best.

La Mancha is a region located at Spain’s heart.

Today I found out that it was named by the Arabs, who called it Al Mansha, or “waterless land”. What a beautiful name, and a perfect description of this harsh, rocky land. Its dry and extreme climate with torrid summers and frosty winters has given shape to a very recognizable landscape, which I love. Here only the most resistant flora and fauna survive. Herbs such as thyme, lavender or rosemary, and a wide variety of thickets and bushes, form this unique ecosystem where the Manchega sheep roams.

Smells and flavours of an honest land that come to life in the Manchego cheese.

MADE WITH LOVE

Manchego Cheese www.themanchegocheese.comThis is a blog for those of you who love to live slow.

If you enjoy the everyday little pleasures, would take it easy just to look at the scenery, know how to find peace in a moment of silence, and really enjoy looking, smelling, choosing and – of course – tasting your food, this blog is for you.

This is a blog about artisan cheeses.

Yes, cheeses made following ancient traditions, cheeses matured with passion, cheeses that are the expression of a land and its people.

Through both my work and personal interests, I get the opportunity to meet and work with many cheesemakers in La Mancha, Spain. Here I will be sharing my discoveries about this wonderful region and its superb cheeses.

Welcome to The Manchego Cheese blog.