Raw Sheep’s Milk Cheese
The Man’s BFF, Gary and wife, Nancy, gave us a wheel of Villajos Manchego Cheese from Spain. As discussed in the earlier post about Yorkshire Wensleydale, Manchego is also a protected status cheese both under Spanish law and the EU rules.
To be designated as Queso Manchego, the cheese must fulfill the following requirements: it must be produced in an area that is restricted to parts of the provinces of Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca and Toledo, which all lie within the La Mancha area of Spain; it must be made from whole milk of the Manchego breed of sheep that are raised on registered farms within the designated area; the cheese must be aged for a minimum of sixty days and a maximum of two years; and the cheese must be produced in approved cylindrical molds that look like a basket weave (the original cheese was pressed into baskets giving it the weave look). It may be produced using either raw milk or pasteurized milk; the raw milk version can add the designation of “Artisan” to the name of the cheese.
Most imported cheeses to the US are made from pasteurized milk because the rat ass bastards (again, The Lady’s opinion of the US Government types and not necessarily mine…) at the FDA are quite finicky about bugs and germs that might grow in raw milk cheese. The US law requires that raw milk cheeses be aged a minimum of sixty days to make sure the bad guys are dead… as reported in previous posts here about Estrella Family Creamery and Sally Jackson Cheeses, the FDA has “ramped up” their oversight of raw milk cheesemaking.
Villajos is made with raw Manchega Sheep milk and imported in 2.2 pound wheels by Tienda. This cheese is hand-churned and aged for about six months. It is firm and has a pleasant sharpness with lots of floral overtones and a nice, bitter aftertaste. This cheese is made in small batches by Beni, the Master Cheesemaker. Because Villajos is a family operation, the cheese isn’t available for large-scale commerce. Even though it has been on the market only about ten years, it has won many awards including Gran Seleccion Medal Winner in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006.
Raw vs. Pasteurized – the Manchego Test
Because the Villajos is made with Raw Sheep’s Milk, The Lady brought home a wedge of the Garcia Baquero Pasteurized Sheep’s Milk Manchego to do a taste comparison.
She allowed both cheeses to reach room temperature to maximize the flavors (most cheeses taste better at room temperature). She served the cheeses with Wellington Tradition Crackers and a selection of jams and spreads, which included a blueberry jam made by my BFF, Becky. Traditionally, Manchego when served as dessert is served with Membrillo, quince paste.
We tasted the raw milk Villajos first and the flavor exploded in our mouths and set our taste buds on edge; that’s a good thing. Then we tasted the pasteurized Garcia Baquero and the difference was staggering. The pasteurized version tasted flat; there’s just no other word to use.
The Lady sells the pasteurized version at her kiosk and she sells a lot of it and most of the customers rant and rave about how tasty it is. The Lady likes the pasteurized version; well, liked it would be a better term, now that’s she’s tasted the raw milk version. I feel a new mania coming on… the search for more raw milk cheeses and more taste comparisons…
I guess it’s true… once you’ve had raw; you never look at pasteurized the same way. The heat does indeed kill much of the flavor and that’s a shame.
I give Villajos Manchego 4 Paws out of 4 Paws (cause that’s all I’ve got).
Serving Suggestions: This raw milk cheese deserves to be treated with great respect: serve it on a cheese board to enjoy the flavors. A little quince paste or jam is fine; but just a schmear, otherwise the jam can overpower the cheese. Add a few slices of Jamon Serrano and you’ve got a meal. Marcona Almonds would make it truly complete.
Wine Pairing: Tempranillo always goes well with this cheese.
Beer Pairing: North Coast Old Stock Ale
Source: Raw Manchega Sheep Milk
Awards: Gran Seleccion Medal Winner in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006.
Bit of trivia: According to Spanish lore, Manchego was Don Quixote’s favorite cheese. Why not? Afterall, he was The Man of La Mancha.