Manchego is a sheep's milk cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain. Manchego is aged for three months or longer, and is semi-firm with a rich golden color and small holes. It ranges from mild to sharp, depending on how long it is aged.
Manchego is produced in La Mancha and is made only from the whole milk of Manchega sheep. The rich, semi-firm product is aged in natural caves for three to six months, imparting a zest and exuberant flavor. Manchego is barrel-shaped and weighs about 2 kg (4 lb). It comes in a 25 cm (10") diameter wheel, 12 cm (5") thick, with a herringbone design on the inedible rind caused by the surface of the press used in the manufacturing process. (This traditional embossed pattern dates from when the cheese was wrapped in sheets of woven esparto grass.)
Additionally, Manchego is pressed using wooden boards that leave imprints of wheat-ear patterns on the top and bottom of the product, rendering a unique and earthy appearance. The color of the paste is white or light yellow, and the rind is generally somewhere between light brown and dark grey. The taste depends on the maturity: mild, subtle, and fresh; or strong and full-bodied with a tangy farmhouse flavor.
Manchego's flavour is very distinctive, slightly salty but not too strong. It is creamy with a slight piquancy, and leaves the characteristic aftertaste of sheep’s milk; it tastes very similar to feta cheese, though not as salty and with a chewier texture. Just like wine, Serrano ham and olive oil, Manchego cheese is protected by its Denominación de Origen. This controls its production, ensures the exclusive use of milk only from the Manchega sheep, and dictates an aging period (in natural caves) of a minimum of two months.
Manchego is available in three different states of maturity: fresh (fresco), 3–6 months old (curado) or matured for one year (viejo).
Manchego is often eaten on Spanish crackers or with salmon or lamb. It is also eaten with dulce de membrillo, a firm paste made of quince. Manchego also goes well with a medium-bodied beer or a Rioja wine. A traditional way to enjoy it in Spain is having it served on toasted bread that has been rubbed with garlic and tomato, then drizzled with olive oil.
A similar cheese is popular in Mexico and Spanish-speaking areas of the United States, where origin and method of production are not specifically regulated. Mexican Manchego is typically a semi-firm (not hard) cheese used for melting, similar to that of Oaxaca cheese, both of which are often used in quesadillas).