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.

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!

5 TIPS FOR A PERFECT PICNIC… WITH CHEESE

www.themanchegocheese.com1. Choose wisely

It’s hard to imagine a picnic without cheese, but when you’re going to be out all day in the sun, you should choose wisely. I’m sure you don’t want your painstakingly selected cheese to end up as a runny mess!

Taking into account how long the cheese will be away from refrigeration, how hot the weather is and how the cheeses will be transported are key. Of course, choosing top quality tasty cheeses are crucial too!

Firm cheeses like Manchego do well in the wilderness. They’re quite resistant to the heat, easy to eat and combine well with a wide variety of simple foods.

2. Pack it well

Make sure to pack your cheeses correctly. My favorite way of doing so is using individual airtight containers, just a little bigger than the cheese. Separating each cheese will prevent you from mixing the flavors so I’ll rather use separate containers than mixing all the cheeses in one.

3. Keep it simple

Forget complex dishes and reach for simple yet tasty foods. Manchego cheese, a selection of sliced meats such as Serrano ham, “chorizo” or “salchichón”, some sturdy fruit such as apples or, better yet, a small container of jam or “dulce de membrillo”, and a fresh loafer of bread with raisins, nuts and seeds, are almost all you need for the perfect picnic lunch.

4. Take the essentials

Now you have the food sorted, let’s look at the other essentials. Here’s a basic list:

  • Cooler fully stocked with ice
  • Small cutting board and knife to cut and serve cheese
  • Picnic basket to carry supplies
  • Small storage containers for leftovers
  • Soft picnic blanket or tablecloth to lay on ground
  • Utensils/plates/cups
  • Napkins/paper towels
  • Trash bags
  • Music player

5. Don’t forget the wine

Last but not least, make sure not to forget the wine. After all, is there a better way to relax than savoring a glass of wine with your picnic cheese menu?

QUICK & TASTY RECIPES #11- Grilled asparagus with Manchego & walnuts

la foto 2Spring has sprung and so we’re kick starting barbecue season. Hooray!

If you, like me, love to add vegetables to any BBQ, here’s a fantastic recipe that has become an all time favorite in my family. This is so simple yet healthy and yummy that I’m sure your gang will love it too.

 

What you need:

  • 1 bunch of asparagus (about 1 pound), trimmed
  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oilwww.themanchegocheese.com
  • 1 ounce of Manchego, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 2 walnuts
  • 1 tbs soy sauce
  • Salt & pepper

Instructions:

  1. Heat grill to medium-high.
  2. In a big bowl, toss the asparagus with the extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper.
  3. Grill until tender, about 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the soy sauce on it
  5. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with the Manchego and walnuts.
  6. Enjoy!

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?

HOW TO TASTE CHEESE LIKE A PRO – Part II

Manchego Cheese tastingWere you able to appreciate the tasting notes of the Manchega sheep’s milk? Great! Let’s then continue with our professional tasting and concentrate on the visual aspects of the cheese – I know, you probably want to continue eating it but be patient, soon you’ll be able to savor it!

As part of our visual inspection we should look at the following:

  • The rind. Cheeses can have different types of rind: wrinkled, white, wax, natural and washed rind. They can also have no rind at all, as it happens with fresh cheeses such as mozzarella. In the case of Manchego, its rind is inedible. Nevertheless, it’s important to pay attention to it, as its distinctive, characteristic zigzag pattern is one of the signs of authenticity. Originally this pattern was achieved using esparto grass molds. Nowadays modern molds are used for the same visual effect.
  • Visual consistency.  When cutting the cheese open does it appear soft, semi-soft, semi-firm or hard? Manchego is definitely a hard cheese. This comes from the aging process. As the longer the aging the harder the cheese, and Manchego cheeses can be aged from 60 days to up to 2 years, looking at the consistency will give you a good indication of how long your Manchego was aged.
  • Mouthfeel. Isn’t this the part you were waiting for? Yes, now you have permission to sample the cheese you’ve been admiring. Hooray! Take a small piece and feel it in your mouth. Does it feel spongy, creamy, curdy, crumbly, grainy, crystallized, perhaps? Most people describe Manchego as smooth, creamy and buttery. How would you describe yours? Not sure? Take another bite. Not sure yet? Then take a bit more.

Can you see now why I love professional tastings so much? You don’t need to feel guilty about tucking into your favorite foods over and over again. It’s all part of the research. Being professional they call it.