Named for the Manchega sheep, this popular traditional Spanish cheese can be adapted easily for goats' or cows' milk. There are three varieties of this delicious cheese. Manchego fresco is only aged for 2 weeks. Manchego curado is aged from three to six months. And Manchego viejo is aged for one year. In Spain there are a number of requirements for a cheese to officially be recognised as a Manchego, but this recipe gives a fairly close approximation of the real thing. The fresco version – our favourite, or in other words, the only one we have the patience for which to wait! - has a very smooth texture and buttery taste. The longer the aging, the nuttier and richer the taste, particularly if you are using goat or sheep milk.
8 liters milk
1/8 tsp mesophilic starter culture
1/8 tsp thermophilic starter culture
(NB – amounts of culture may vary depending on what you use, just follow the packet instructions for the volume of milk you are using. For most meso and thermo cultures 1/8 tsp will inoculate up to 12 liters of milk.)
¼ tsp lipase powder, dissolved in ¼ cup cool, non-chlorinated water (this is optional; goat milk contains lipase already, but cow's milk does not. It will be a milder cheese if you do not add the lipase, but I find that even adding it to the goat milk gives a more complex-tasting result – experiment!)
1-2 tsp junket rennet diluted in ¼ cup cool, non-chlorinated water (the amount of rennet will vary depending on type of milk – you generally need less of this type of rennet with cows' milk than goats' milk)
Warm the milk to 31C. Add both starter cultures, stirring for about a minute. Cover and leave in a warm place for 45 minutes, allowing the cultures to develop.
Add the lipase mixture, stirring well.
Add the dilute rennet, stirring slowly, from the top down, rather than agitating in a circle or back and forth. Only stir for a 10-15 seconds.
Cover and leave in a warm place to set, up to 45 minutes.
Cut the curds into 1 cm cubes, and allow to set for 5 minutes without stirring.
Stir curds in case they have clumped, and then use a large balloon whisk for stirring the curds until they are the size of grains of rice. This should be a fairly slow process, taking roughly 5 to 10 minutes of slow stirring. This gentle breaking of the curd is already helping the whey to escape.
Heat the curds to 40C, slowly, heating it about 1C every 5 minutes. The best way to do this is immerse the pot in a warm water bath, stir gently every 5 minutes, as you reheat the warm water bath, a little warmer each time.
Line a small mold with cheese cloth or butter muslin. (NB - it must be a very light material, otherwise it will not fit well in the press and it will leave indentations all over the finished cheese, which can interfere with the cheese forming a proper rind in the case of a cheese which is to be aged for several months.) The mold should hold about 4 cups of curd easily, but you are aiming for a cheese that is about 10 cm tall, so when choosing a mold, allow for a follower to be placed in the mold as well.
Ladle the curds out of the whey with a slotted spoon or small sieve, and place in the lined mold.
Press at 7 kg of pressure for 15 minutes. If you aren't using marked weights or a pressure gauge, press just till the whey really starts to flow.
Remove the cheese, unwrap, turn over, rewrap, place in the mold and press again as above.
Repeat the above process one more time.
Lastly, repeat as above, except press at 24kg of pressure for 6 hours. If you don't have marked weights or a pressure gauge, press until the whey flow is starting to slow. Sounds complicated, but you soon get a feel for the right pressure.
Make a saturated brine solution in a small plastic or other non-corrosive container, not much larger than the cheese itself. Soak the cheese in the brine for about 6 hours. Alternately, you can make a brine of 3 tbsp of sea salt in 2 cups water, and leave the cheese in the brine for one week. It's a slightly different flavour – again, experimentation is good!
Remove the cheese from the brine, and pat dry. For Fresco, you can store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. For either the aged cheeses, keep in a cheese cave at 12C, turning daily, and lightly coating with light olive oil to keep from getting too dry. If any mould grows on the cheese, wipe with a lint-free cloth dampened with brine. (NB – a cheese cave can be as simple as an old fridge with an adjustable thermostat installed, as normal refrigerators are too cold to allow a cheese to age properly, or you can find a second-hand wine chiller, which has a temperature range wider than a regular fridge.)