How Does Manchego Cheese Change With Age?

As with any of the great cheeses, the maturation and ageing of Manchego has big implications for the flavour.

In order to qualify as real Manchego cheese, the wheels must be aged for more than two months in natural caves in Spain’s the La Mancha region.

Two months is enough time to get a bit of flavour into the cheese, but that silky sheep’s milk has much more to offer.  This is where the cheese-maker’s art starts to manifest…

Pulling the cheese out of the cave after between three and six months gives you a Manchego Curado. The cheese is about halfway to being completely solid – technically, it’s semi-cured – and breaks easily when required, with just a hint of yellow in the colour. The taste is mild, not over-powering, with a nutty piquancy and a smooth, creamy texture in the mouth. At this point it works very well for melting or in other ways finishing off a dish.

However, if you’re prepared to wait a little longer for your cheese, you end up with a different beast. Restrain yourself for a year before opening the cave and you’ll find the wonderful Manchego Viejo. At this point the cheese is cured and has become much more solid, though retaining some of that interesting crumbly texture, and the colour has become a rich yellow. The flavour has increased in complexity, with a sharp edge to it and an intense, peppery body. The cheese is all grown up and ready to take center stage, shaved or grated, or eaten on its own.

(In La Mancha itself, it’s also possible to get Manchego Fresco, a white, fresh cheese which has only been aged for a couple of weeks.  This smooth, rich cheese is delicious but very hard to get outside the region, and isn’t technically considered a real Manchego cheese.)

Of course, the older the cheese, the more expensive it is. The best bet is to try them all so that you know what you’re doing, then you’ll be able to pick the one that fits into your meal. Though my preference is to plan the whole meal around Manchego