Manchego Cheese

Posted on Friday, October 23rd, 2009 at 12:36 am

I had the amazing opportunity to tour Finca La Prudencia, a fourth-generation, family-run, artisan cheese producer in Tembleque.

I took the bus from Toledo.  The landscape in Castille La Mancha is so beautiful that I really enjoyed the hour-long ride.

Castille La Mancha Castille La Mancha

Castille La Mancha Castille La Mancha

According to the plan, when I arrived in Tembleque I was supposed to call Adolfo, part of that fourth generation.  Heading towards the center of town, I found myself at the weekly market.

Wednesday Market Wednesday Market

Wednesday Market Wednesday Market

Having wandered the market, I went into a bar to call Adolfo.  I ordered a cafe con leche so as not to be rude.  Then, I showed the bartender a piece of paper with Adolfo’s name and phone number and tried to ask if I could use the phone.  He pointed to the back, beyond where the phone was hanging on the wall.  I asked again and he pointed towards a back table.  I realized that I had just walked straight into the bar where Adolfo was having a meeting.  I introduced myself and then waited with my coffee.  When the meeting was over, Adolfo met me at the front.  As we walked out the door together, another man met us.  Adolfo had arranged for Javier Aguirre de Navasques, the Export Manager, to pick me up from town, take me to the property, and give me an English tour.  I am astounded by the generosity that Adolfo and Javier extended in arranging all of this, just because I am a culinary student.  (Thank you to both of them.)

Finca La Prudencia

Finca La Prudencia (http://www.artequeso.com/en/), which sells its cheese under the names Artequeso and Buenalba, is keeping it real as an artisan cheese producer.  Most of the sheep which produce the milk are on the same property as the manufacturing equipment.  (As they now produce 300 tons of cheese per year, it’s no longer possible to exclusively use their own sheep.  Still, all of the milk comes from animals in a very close proximity to the property.)

Transports and Refrigerates the Milk Refrigerates the milk

As the cheese is produced with raw milk, it is important to take great care in the cheese-making process.  The milk is collected early in the morning and kept carefully refrigerated at 4-5 degrees C.

Heats the Milk to Separate Curds and Whey

Within 24 hours of milking, this machine heats the milk to between 34-36 degrees C, close to body temperature.  Animal rennet is added, turning the milk into curds (the solids) and whey (the liquid).

Puts Cheese in Molds Cheese Press

The curds are separated from the whey.  (The whey is sold to other companies, who might use it to make cottage cheese or as animal feed.)

The fresh cheese curds are placed into molds and pressed to create a solid, dense form.  They are pressed for 7-8 hours, to ensure that any excess whey is removed.

Dips Cheese in Saline Saline Dip

The molded, pressed rounds of cheese are dipped into salt water.  This saline will help flavor and preserve the cheese.

Official Label Official Label

All D.O Manchego cheese is labeled so you know it is from the real region.

Wax

This machine waxes some of the cheese as an anti-mold measure.  While the mold is a natural, safe part of cheese aging, certain countries require such a wax if the cheese is to be imported.

Aging Cheese Aging Cheese

The cheese is then aged in temperature and humidity controlled rooms.

Artequeso makes three kinds of D.O. manchego cheese.

  1. The semi-cured manchego is aged for 4-5 months.  During that time, it is cleaned with water.
  2. The cured manchego is aged for a year.  During that time, it is brushed with olive oil, to clean it and give it a beautiful, dark olive green rind.
  3. Also aged for 12 months, there is also a special manchego which is kept in olive oil.  The oil adds flavor and richness, while acting as another preservative.

Goat Milk Cheese in Wine Goat Milk Cheese with Paprika

Finca La Prudencia also makes other cheeses under the name Buenalba, including various goat milk cheeses.

Packaging

The cheese is processed from start to finish on the premises, including final packaging.

I appreciate the deliberate scale of Finca La Prudencia.  The manufacturing facility is not big; everything happens within five rooms.  After touring the plant, Javier and I took a very short walk (less than two minutes) to see the sheep.

Manchego Sheep Manchego Sheep

Manchego Sheep Manchego Sheep

The cheese might be washed with olive oil or covered in rosemary, but fundamentally it is only made of the sheep’s milk and salt water.  Manchego cheese gets its distinctive flavor from the milk of these manchego sheep.

While the sheep happened to be penned while I was there, they go out to feed on the open pasture every day.  There, they are tended by shepherds and their dogs.  Touring La Prudencia, I got a sense of how things used to be… and how I think they should still be.  La Prudencia is preserving a way of manufacturing that benefits the animals, the product, and the people who eat it.  As a culinary student, I am really lucky to have had the opportunity to tour it.

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