Essex manchego cheese
Essex Manchego is made on a century old farm in the arid, hilly heart of La Mancha. It’s made by Maria José Gonzalez and selected for Essex Street Cheese, the famed New York importer. Each wheel is made from the unpasteurized milk of a single flock of Manchega sheep. It’s one of just three Manchegos in Spain made with an unwaxed rind.
Leaving a rind unwaxed has enormous implications for flavor and texture.
Covering the rind of a wheel or block of cheese with wax holds moisture in the cheese as it ages. That’s good for a cheesemaker’s expense account because otherwise that moisture would evaporate—and with it a bit of profit too. Wax can also help prevent the rind of the cheese from cracking. However, wax has its drawbacks. The main one is that it locks in harsh flavors released by the active cultures in the cheese. Unwaxed cheeses are able to breathe, which allows them to develop deeper, more complex flavors and rid themselves of that acidic bite you may have tasted in a waxed rind cheese.
Originally Manchego was made in baskets woven from esparto grass.
Esparto grass was also traditionally used to make espadrille shoes—hence the name. It grows wild across the dusty plains of southern Spain and northern Africa. Today plastic cheese molds have been designed to emulate the woven ridges of those baskets. To make Essex Manchego the cheese curds—that’s what’s in the vat pictured above—are put into those molds by hand and then they’re pressed to remove excess whey. After that the molds are removed, the cheese is dipped in a salt water brine, and then it begins aging. Nothing else is added to create the rind. It’s simply the naked curd, dried with exposure to air. That means that, if you want to, you can eat the rind of Essex Manchego. It’s dry enough that I usually don’t, but there’s nothing harmful about it.
You might notice a bit of grey mold on the rind of Essex Manchego at home, and if that happens you can just brush it off with a washcloth. It’s safe. Molds that grow on an unwaxed rind are actually a good thing—they’re totally natural and can even help with the flavor development.
Essex Manchego is incredibly savory.
It has brothy and toasty notes, like a bowl of beef noodle soup with a hunk of just-baked crusty bread. Those rich, roasty notes are balanced with a bit of lactic, yogurty tang. The texture is super creamy on the tongue, with just a hint of crunchy crystallization. It has none of the burning flavors that mar other Manchegos. To get the full flavor try it at room temperature. Better yet, eat it with some cured ham, a handful of nuts, some fresh figs, and a glass of dry sherry.
What to expect when you’re expecting cheese
How will the cheese ship?
In warmer months (early April to mid September), we ship cheese with two business day service plus warm weather care. We employ an ice pack and insulation defensive strategy that ensures your shipment arrives in great shape. Dry ice will evaporate, ice packs may melt, but they will have done their job on the journey. The extra packaging is reusable on picnics and road trips.
The rest of the year (late September to the end of March), the shipping method will either be flat rate service (1-4 business days) for our more durable aged, hard cheeses or two business day service for our more perishable younger, soft cheeses. Aged cheeses can withstand the time in transit – their age ensures their durability.
What’s up with that oil?
If you see oil, that’s just moisture leaking out of the cheese. Cheesemongers call it weeping, which sounds sad, but it’s natural and there’s no need for condolences. Just wipe your wedge with a cloth.
Should I be worried about the smell?
When you open a wrapped piece of cheese that’s been closed in a box the aroma can be strong. The tight quarters don’t let it breathe well. Don’t worry. Give it a half hour of fresh air when you want to eat it.
How to store your cheese
Cheeses love temperatures around 50 degrees, but chances are it didn’t travel at that temperature. In winter it is cooler. In summer, hotter. Don’t worry, cheese is durable!
Place it in the door or a drawer of your refrigerator where the temperature is consistent but not too cold, ideally the spot closest to 50 degrees.
Keep the cheese in the cheese bag to help it keep better for longer.
After we hand-cut each piece of cheese to order, we wrap each piece in a bag made of special cheese paper. The paper allows the cheese to breathe which helps it to maintain great flavor. Keep the cheese in that bag in your fridge to help it keep better for longer. After you open the cheese for a nibble, any remainders can be put back into the bag. The cheese bag can be closed with a simple roll or fold – a sticker or tape will help, but is not needed.
Do not freeze your cheese!
Cheese is a living thing. Freezing will stop the natural processes that keep cheese so tasty.
The best way to serve cheese
Take your cheese out of the fridge about 20 to 30 minutes before you serve it. Cheese tastes best at room temperature. It makes a world of difference: the aromas expand, becoming more complex; more of the fat spreads on your tongue, which makes the flavor more intense. When cheese is warm you’ll eat less of it and enjoy it more.