HAVE A GREAT MANCHEGO SUMMER!

young girl on the road with a suitcaseThis is my last post before I leave on vacation. After a very busy year trying to handle the many roles being a working mum involves, it’s now that very much expected time to get away with the family and spend the long summer days lounging by the seaside, strolling in the nature and dining under the stars.

This means I will be putting this blog on stand by until summer is over and I’ll be – hopefully – back with the batteries topped up with all the energy of the sunshine.

I would like to thank you all for following me during these months. I hope I was able to share with you my passion for Manchego cheese and explain all the tradition, history, care and craftsmanship its wonderful taste conveys. I hope I gave you some ideas on how to enjoy it and, most importantly, hints on how to recognize the authentic Manchego cheese vs. the industrial lookalikes.

I wish you all a superb summer, filled with joy and laughter, and also, why not, with a touch of Manchego. Enjoy!

MANCHEGO POPCORNS & MOVIES

Popcorn & Manchego CheeseI love summer in La Mancha with its bright skies and warm days. But when it’s so terribly hot that’s hard to sleep, staying awake until late watching classic movies is a great pastime.

My latest extravaganza is to make a special theme evening watching a couple of films (and sometimes even three!) on a particular topic, while enjoying drinks and snacks carefully chosen to match the occasion.

Last weekend I organized a La Mancha movie evening with friends and, we enjoyed so much I have to share the experience with you.

First of all, I prepared a selection of classic films from La Mancha. We watched in this order:

  • All About My Mother (1999), a comedy-drama written and directed by Manchego film director Pedro Almodóvar, that won him his first academy award for best foreign language film.
  • Man of La Mancha (1972), an adaptation of classic novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, starring Peter O’Toole as the famous knight and Sophia Loren as sexy Dulcinea.
  • Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), my favorite Almodóvar film, a totally hilarious comedy, perfect to take you through to the wee hours.

Then the snacks… since the movie snack “par excellence” are my beloved popcorns, I decided to try a Manchego version of them. Here’s what I did.

What you need:

  • Butter, 2 tbsp
  • Garlic, 2 cloves, pressed
  • Spanish smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp
  • Salt, a pinch
  • Popped corn, 6 cups
  • Manchego cheese, 1/4 cup, grated

Instructions:

  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, cook butter, garlic, paprika and salt.
  2. Scrape over popped corn.
  3. Add Manchego cheese.
  4. Mix well and add more salt if desired.
  5. Serve immediately and enjoy.

So, what do you think? Are you up for a Manchego movies evening?

ENERGY BOOSTING BREAKFASTS

Manchego cheese breakfastWe’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but, during a busy morning, it’s easy to let breakfast fall low in your list of priorities.

A good breakfast fuels you up and gets you ready for the day. Also, eating a substantial, protein-rich breakfast keeps you full, so you end up eating less during the day. Yes, research shows that including protein at breakfast is critical to successful weight loss!

Manchego cheese has more protein than meat and so adding Manchego to your breakfast is not only yummy but a fantastic idea too. Here are three suggestions for a 100% delish energy boosting Manchego breakfast:

1. The healthiest option

A balanced, easy-to-assemble make-ahead morning meal: Grab an apple, wrap 1 to 2 ounces of Manchego in plastic, and toss ¼ cup of fiber- and protein-rich walnuts into a re-sealable plastic bag. You can snack this while driving to work.

2. The sweetest one

A quick and sophisticated alternative suitable for the everyday: Cut a couple of slices of bread – a French baguette if possible. Drop a bit of olive oil on each and toast them on the grill. Place a slice of Manchego cheese and a thin slice of membrillo paste on top of each toast.

3. The perfect brunch

A one-pan meal that will be an instant hit: In a large skillet sauté in olive oil ½ sliced onion and 2 sliced potatoes. Once ready, pour the mix in a bowl, then crack two eggs into it and add a handful of sliced green olives together with 2 ounces of Manchego, sliced thin. Stir gently with a whisk, then pour the mix back to the skillet and bake it in a medium-high heat oven until ready. Serve with freshly squeezed orange juice, hot coffee and a bread roll.

TOP 10 VEGETARIAN TAPAS (part I)

Manchego Cheese tapaSpain has lots of delicious tapas”, but a healthy chunk of them involve meat. True, being a vegetarian in Spain is not that common and may draw lots of weird looks. However, it’s entirely doable and enjoyable!

If you’re vegetarian and are planning a holiday in Spain, arm yourself with two short phrases: “lleva carne?” (does it have meat?) and “sin carne, por favor” (without meat, please) and take note of the below list of vegetarian “tapas”, all of them commonly found everywhere in Spain:

1. Aceitunas – Olives

Olives are fantastic in Spain. They come in all type of varieties and flavors. If you’re strict vegetarian just beware of the ones stuffed with anchovies.

2. Pan con tomate – Toast with olive oil & tomato

A humble, yet tasty and delish, dish. Being originally from Catalonia, it’s nowadays found pretty much everywhere in Spain.

3. Queso Manchego

Of course, this has to be our preferred veggie “tapa”! Ask for it with some “membrillo” (quince) on the side, and get ready for an out-of-this-world experience.

4. Patatas bravas y alioli – Fried potatoes with salsas

For complete enjoyment, wash these “patatas” down with a “caña” (small glass of beer).

5. Tortilla española – Spanish omelette

This has to be the basic vegetarian go-to dish. Just make sure it’s homemade and slightly moist in the center – dry and hard “tortillas” are awful, believe me.

Want to know more delicious veggie “tapas”? Then watch this space!

PAIRING: MANCHEGO CHEESE & WALNUTS

Manchego cheese & walnutsNutrition experts keep on telling us that we should include nuts into our daily diet. Apparently, these little wonders are packed with heart-healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals. They’re nature’s way of showing us that good things often come in small packages!

Pairing them with cheese is a good idea for a super healthy snack – great for people with special nutritional needs such seniors, children or pregnant women – or a simple yet delish dessert.

Manchego cheese goes well with different types of nuts. Having tried it in different combinations, I would recommend pairing your Manchego with walnuts, almonds or pecan nuts.

I’ll dedicate this post to the Manchego & walnut combination, my favorite couple from the three mentioned before, and a heavenly combination when made as a trio with a little honey on the top. Yum!

But, why is Manchego & walnuts such a great pair?

The crunchiness of walnuts is a tasty contrast to the texture of the Manchego. Also walnuts have an earthy flavor that compliments the taste of the Manchega sheeps’ milk really well.

Nutritionally, walnuts are great for the heart and arteries. They have high amounts of alpha linoleic acid (ALA), an acid that helps to prevent heart arrhythmias, reducing inflammation and oxidation in the arteries. Great news!

So, what are you waiting for? Do like me: At least twice per week, enjoy a platter of Manchego cheese sprinkled with walnuts and drizzled with Rosemary honey – Health and pleasure on a plate.

PAIRINGS: MANCHEGO CHEESE & SHERRY WINE

Manchego Cheese & SherryAs I’m really into wine & cheese, I’m always on the lookout for new exciting pairings. I’ve already talked here about some of the possibilities Manchego offers in this respect – Pairing it with wines from La Mancha, red Tempranillos or white Verdejos are all fine options.

Today I want to explore a different kind of pairing involving what is regarded by many writers as a “neglected wine treasure”: Sherry.

Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes, primarily Palomino grapes, that are grown near the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, a region that neighbors La Mancha from the South.

Sherry is produced in a variety of dry styles ranging from light versions similar to white table wines, such as Manzanilla and Fino, to darker and heavier ones that have been allowed to oxidize as they age in barrel, such as Amontillado and Oloroso.

My favorite is Manchego & Fino Sherry but – since this is a very personal choice – you might want to try the other combinations too. All spectacular, believe me!

Why do Sherry and Manchego go so well together? As Manchego, Sherry is layered and complex. It has rich flavors that “make you think”, if you know what I mean. Also, both Sherry and Manchego have protected designation of origin status and are in fact two of the oldest PDO councils in Europe. There’s plenty of history and tradition in this pair!

This combination makes for a perfect tapa before lunch or a great post-dinner treat, next to dessert. Just remember: Sherry needs to be served chilled and drunk fresh so it’s better to buy it from a shop or online retailer that has a good turnover of bottles.

HOW TO TASTE CHEESE LIKE A PRO – Part III

Manchego cheese tastingAre you enjoying our cheese tasting class? I hope you are.

After getting the basics straight and admiring the visual appearance of the cheese, we now move on to the final part of the tasting, my absolute favorite part, as now it’s time to let your imagination run wild and I can tell you: for good or bad, my imagination has no limits.

What we’re looking for is a description of the flavor of the cheese. In wine tastings, we sniff and savor to come to such a description. With cheese, we can use the following techniques:

  • Smell vs. flavor: Like wine, sometimes the scent and flavor are synonymous. Other times, they are complete opposites. Before tasting the Manchego, give it a good whiff and compare the scent to the taste. Are they similar?
  • Use basic adjectives: Start with basic flavors to describe the cheese. Is it salty, sweet, sour, or acidic? Manchego cheeses have complex tasting profiles and so you might want to use a combination of these adjectives to describe them.
  • What the animals ate: As I said on the first part of these series of articles, the flavor of the milk often shines through and tastes like whatever the Manchega sheep ate, whether it was grass, hay, or wild flowers. Can you appreciate those notes?
  • Similes: Does your Manchego smell as a sweaty pair of socks? Does the flavor remind you of a stick of butter or even walnuts? The fun of tasting is to link the cheese to memories of foods or strong smells you’ve experienced. That’s why tasting is such a personal experience.

So how about you? How would you describe your favorite Manchego cheese?