Usually, cheese in a salad refers to some crumpled feta or mozzarella sprinkled on top. But to build an entire salad based on a cheese? You need an exemplary cheese for that and Manchego fits that bill to perfection!
Manchego cheese is made from sheep’s milk, and has a firm and compact, yet creamy, texture. It is light yellow in colour with a minimum fat content of 6.5% and protein content of 4.5%. A wheel of Manchego cheese is barrel-shaped, with a height of 12 cm and a diameter of 22 cm. It is a cheese that has been made for thousands of years, without any changes in the ingredients.
Traditionally, the cheese was made in plaited grass baskets, which left a pattern of zig-zag weaving on the outside of the cheese. In modern times, this pattern is achieved using a mould which has a relief pattern on the inside. The top and bottom surfaces have the imprint of an ear of wheat as well.
A Manchego cheese has to be aged for a period of 2 months to 2 years, in the natural caves of the region. Based on the aging time, Manchego cheeses are categorised as Semi-curado (up to three months of aging), Curado (three to six months), and Viejo (one year to two years). The longer the cheese ages, it gets firmer and develops a complex flavour.
During the process of maturing, a natural rind is formed around the cheese. This rind is not edible, but official rules do not allow this rind to be removed before sale.
Manchego cheese is made only in the La Mancha region of Spain, from the milk of the Manchega sheep. Remember La Mancha? It is the setting for the epic novel ‘Don Quixote’ by Miguel de Cervantes. Actually, the full title of the book is, ‘The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha’.
La Mancha is a geographical region, a high plateau that extends to the south of the capital city Madrid reaching up to the Sierra Morena mountain range of the Iberian peninsula. Most of the plateau is not suitable for agriculture due to its arid climate and the rocky terrain which allow only hardy plants to grow. The original name given to the region by the Arabs who lived in the area thousands of years ago, was Al Mansha, meaning ‘waterless land’. The unique plants and herbs that the Manchega sheep live on are the reason for the cheese’s distinctive flavour.
Artisanal Manchego cheese is handmade by farmers from raw milk while commercially produced varieties are made from pasteurised milk. It is difficult to get the artisanal variety outside of Spain, though. Yep, one more thing to look forward to, in Spain!
This salad, it is so simple. It has two ingredients and a dressing with three.
Or, even a lunch!
Note: I have eaten this salad without adding any salt and it tastes great.
- 8 oz Manchego cheese
- 2 Granny Smith apples
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tsp red chilli flakes
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Cut the cheese into matchstick sized pieces.
- Peel and core the apples. Cut them into matchstick size as well.
- In a bowl, combine the cheese and apple pieces.
- Sprinkle chopped parsley and red chilli flakes over the mix.
- Add salt as required.
- Drizzle the olive oil over the mix.
- Toss well and serve right away.