Saturday, August 29, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Manchego Cheese and Some Sheep Information

     Manchego cheese comes from Spain.  Like tequila (which only officially comes from certain parts of Mexico) and champagne (which must come from the region of the same name in France), there are very specific conditions that must be met before it is designated "Manchego Cheese."  It must be made from whole sheep's milk, of the Manchego breed of sheep, and originate from registered farms in the La Mancha region of Spain.  Furthermore, the cheese must be aged 60 days to 2 years, usually in caves, and be pressed in a cylindrical mold with a height of 12 centimeters, and a diameter of 22 centimeters.  Other countries, like Mexico and other Latin American nations, sometimes call cheese made from cow's milk similar to Monterey Jack "Manchego," but this is not considered official.  Manchego is very old--it's been made for over 2000 years.
     There are actually four subtypes of Manchego, based on how long the cheese is aged.  "Fresco" style is only up to 2 weeks old, and so it's a soft variant.  This is basically only found within Spain.  "Semicurado" is aged 3 weeks to 3 months, and is semisoft, with a mild flavor.  "Curado"is aged 3-6 months, is also semisoft, and is considered to have a nutty and sweet flavor.  Finally, "Viego" is aged over 1 year, is a hard type of cheese, and consumers report a sharper, peppery flavor.  (I realize these aging number have some gaps in them.  For example, what subtype is a 9 month aged Manchego cheese considered?  Evidently these labels aren't superstrict, and some "wiggle room" is allowed.)
     The label on the package I bought didn't note which subtype of Manchego I had exactly.  But since it was aged 3 months, and its flavor seemed mild rather than sweet and nutty, I'm guessing it was "semicurado."  It was made by Corazon De Ronda in Spain, and imported by ANCO Fine Cheeses out of N.J., U.S.A.  The price was steep--a half pound of it set me back almost $10.
     It should surprise nobody, given my extremely vocal appreciation of all cheeses in general, that I really liked Manchego.  The texture was firm, and it was slightly flaky.  It was salted the perfect amount--enough to give it some zest, but not too much.  It had a distinct flavor, but reminded me slightly of Parmesan.  It was good on crackers, or plain.  The price of it is admittedly high, but I would still have it again, and I definitely recommend it to others.
     While reading up on this cheese, I also took some time to look up sheep.  Evidently they're not as stupid as I'd thought.  They're considered to be about the same intelligence as cows.  (Which isn't saying much, but still.)  They are capable of recognizing other sheep faces, and human faces.  With training, they can even learn the names given to them by their farmers.  Like "steer" for cattle, and "capon" for chickens, there is a separate term for a castrated adult male--"wether," as opposed to "ram" for an intact male.  There's also an odd condition that arises when a sheep is pregnant with twins that are male and female.  Because of cellular material transfer in the womb, the female fetus gains male XY chromosomes.  As a result, after it's born, this female sheep is infertile, with nonfunctioning ovaries.  It will also display masculine sheep behavior.  This individual is then referred to as a "freemartin."  This condition also occurs in cows, pigs, and goats.  The opposite effect doesn't seem as potent; the male fetus usually has smaller testicles from the mixing with its female twin, but it's not otherwise infertile or feminine in behavior.  Apparently up to even a couple of hundred years ago it was sometimes thought that this same twinning situation would cause the same freemartin effect in humans.  However, this belief is not true.

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