We all know that a good wine deserves good food and there is never a more appropriate accompaniment to a glass or two of your favourite vino than a chunk or two (or three!) of your favourite cheese. Spain’s cheeses are not as well-known as its European neighbours, unless of course you are a cheese connoisseur, yet Spain produces over 100 different cheeses, many of which are Nationally and Internationally Award Winning products. In total there are 13 cheeses with Denominación de Origen Protegida (D.O.P), the most well-known of these cheeses is D.O.P Manchego so I thought it would be a good idea to have Part 1 of my Spanish Cheese Investigation on the cheeses of Castilla-La Mancha the home of Manchego cheese and look at what wines best compliment them so that you can decide for yourself which if not all of them will become your firm favourites on your Spanish cheeseboard…
The plateaus of the region are an ideal grazing terrain, full of natural grasses and wild herbs which give a unique taste to the cheeses of the five provinces Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Guadalajara and Toledo that make up Castilla-La Mancha. All Spanish cheeses have their own uniqueness and character and as a result of the production, the varying curing processes, the traditions and also the families of cheese making in the region all affect the characteristics of the produce as well as whether the milk is from sheep, goats or cows or a combination of all three for instance the first cheese on your cheeseboard is Campo de Montalbán and is a mixture of cows, goats and sheep’s milk. This cheese pairs really well with a full bodied Rioja, strong in taste and mourish to the max.
So down to the next choice for your Castilla-La Mancha cheeseboard, Oropesa. Made from unpasteurised sheeps milk in the towns of Oropesa, its namesake, La Estrella, Puente del Obispo and Talavera de la Reina in the Province of Toledo. Talavera de la Reina is the main town in the province of Toledo and is situated on the fertile plains of two rivers the Tagus and the Alberche. Oropesa is made from the milk of the Talaverana sheep that graze on these fertile plains of wild herbs and grasses. The rind of this cheese is rubbed in olive oil which gives the rind a bright yellow colour that compliments the pale yellow colour of the cheese inside. Oropesa is a hard cheese that when cut has holes inside and to taste leaves a hint of spice on the palate. In my opinion this cheese goes really well with a bottle of chilled oak aged white Rioja and a side of watercress. Perfect for lunch with a chunk of artisan bread. Is your mouth watering yet?
Another cheese from the Toledo area is Cabra Campos de Toledo, a semi-hard pasteurised goat’s milk cheese made in Totanés, Toledo by Quesos Navalmoral. The family ran Quesos Navalmoral established themselves in 1960 and combine ancient cheese making traditions with the latest technologies to produce stunningly tasty cheeses. Cabra Campos de Toledo has a lovely buttery flavour and is medium in strength so stronger full bodied reds may not sit well this one, what does sit really nice on the palate however and partners so well with this cheese is an Albarino grape, a crisp white Spanish wine that is light and fresh with a zesty and well defined citrus hint, overlaid with subtle tastes of honey, ripe apricot and golden apple. So now your Castilla-La Mancha cheeseboard is looking hearty.
So cheese number four and one of my personal favourites Torta Montes Toledo cheese. This is a soft goat’s milk cheese, matured for just two weeks and is an absolute delight with a bottle of chilled Maturana Blanca. Eat the cheese directly from within the rind with a spoon and spread over toasted fresh bread and you will be in cheese heaven. The cheese has a light yet intense taste to the palate and you really appreciate where the cheese has come from. It is produced in the Montes de Toledo, a mountain range where goat breeding is prevalent and cheese is a absolute pleasure.
A more modern cheese is Ibérico, produced with a mixture of cow, goat and sheep milk and you really can taste the three dimensions in this one. A great wine to drink with this one is a Malbec, a medium bodied red wine. Try and get hold of a La Mancha Malbec, the arid and harsh land and endless sunshine is the perfect growing environment for this fruity wine so a La Mancha cheese and a La Mancha wine make the perfect marriage.
So let’s finish with the most famous of all Spanish Cheeses, D.O.P Manchego. This cheese has a creamy texture and quite literally melts in your mouth. The cheese is semi-hard and has a rich and full flavour with a fruity aftertaste. It is made from sheep milk and this is what gives it a distinct taste and colour. The cheese is matured for 1 – 6 months and has a hard rind with esparto grass markings on it, incidentally there is some interesting history to mention here about esparto grass and we wouldn’t be able to publish on Eat Play Stay Spain of course if we didn’t mention a little bit of interesting Spanish history. Esparto grass is indigenous to Spain with the Spanish name for the plant being Atocha. After the Spanish Civil War ended Esparto fibre was declared a national fibre and is used in arts and crafts, rope making, weaving baskets and mats and has been utilised this way for millennia. In a cave in Granada, Southern Spain, the Cueva de Los Murciélagos, the oldest esparto grass baskets ever found date back some 7000 years and there is a thriving Esparto Culture still today. Anyway back to the cheese. The cheese has a nutty flavour and it goes well with almonds and slices of green apple. But what about the wine? Well Manchego get sweeter the more mature it gets and goes extraordinarily well with a nice bottle of my favourite of all wines a Tempranillo. However if the cheese is a young one then a cold glass of Cava compliments perfectly.
So a fine range of Spanish cheeses for your cheese board from the Castilla-La Mancha region. As you are putting your cheeseboard together picture the sheep on the plains and the goats in the mountains, the sunshine on the vineyards, the shepherds in the pastures and the families at work making the artisan cheeses using age old traditional methods and the sunflowers gently dancing in the breeze with every bite…