We discovered this amazing Manchego cheese when we happened upon a small cheese fair in Trujillo a few years ago. We were impressed with its firm but creamy texture and its complex flavor. Only later did we realize we had stumbled upon one of the finest Manchegos produced in Spain.
Not all Manchegos are created equal. Our friends at Villajos make small batches of cheese from fresh milk purchased from local shepherds they know personally. They begin crafting their cheeses within hours of milking, a key to top quality cheese. There is no need for flavor-killing over-pasteurization with such fresh, high quality milk. Sadly, there are very few cheese makers who take such care nowadays. Most Manchegos are mass produced from sheep's milk purchased in bulk from unknown provenance, which must be pasteurized at high temperatures.
Villajos young Manchego has a creamy, full flavor and yet is quite mild. It is a natural companion to Ibérico or Serano ham. It has a bit of sharpness, perfect for pairing with fresh fruit, preserves or membrillo. In fact, it is often served as a dessert in Spain along with fruit and a touch of honey. We simply like to serve a plate of slices at room temperature with a glass of good Spanish wine, and enjoy the complex flavor on its own.
This young Manchego cheese is a part of a remarkable family of sheep's milk cheeses from La Mancha. The Villajos family has created an extraordinary line of cheeses due to skills learned from generations past, their limited family production and meticulous attention to detail.
Around the tiny town of Porzuna, thousands of sheep of the Manchega breed are shepherded through the rolling countryside eating grasses and herbs. Their life of exercise and variety, makes not only for happy sheep, but also for a rich milk full of the herbal flavors of the plains of La Mancha.
This unbelievably creamy milk is then churned and fashioned into cheese wheels hours after milking under the watchful eye of Beni, the master cheese maker in the tiny Villajos factory. It is then aged for three months, the minimum to be called "Manchego".
How different from the industrial Manchego cheese you may see at your supermarket! The animals are not confined to livestock yards eating hay. The raw material does not have a bland mass-market taste. And the resulting cheese is not painted with green or brown food coloring to make them look artisan.
Villajos's flagship reserva cheese was awarded four Gran Selección prizes in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 by the regional Government of Castilla -- La Mancha. It was a hitherto unheard of accomplishment. This young Manchego is exactly the same cheese, simply aged for a shorter amount of time.