Manchego cheese is the most important and well-known sheep’s milk cheese in Spain. The shape of this cheese is very characteristic and defined, due to the traditional use of esparto grass molds which imprint a crisscross pattern on the side of the cheese.
These rustic molds are used outside of La Mancha as well. Thus, there are other Spanish sheep's milk cheese with similar shape and markings, known commonly as "Manchego style" cheese.
The true Manchego cheese, however, is made only from whole milk of the Manchega sheep raised in the "La Mancha" region. This region is a vast high plateau, more than 600 meters above sea level, which extends from east to west and north to south, adjoining the provinces of Toledo, Cuenca, Ciudad Real and Albacete, all in the Castile-La Mancha Autonomous Region southeast of Madrid.
Manchego cheese has a long historic and literary tradition, as it was mentioned by Cervantes in the legendary "Don Quixote of La Mancha". Today, there are two types of Manchego cheese: the farmhouse type, made with unpasteurized sheep's milk and the industrial type, made with pasteurized milk.
In both cases, however, milk from Manchega sheep is the only type used and the cheese is produced in clearly defined homogenous surroundings of wheat fields, fallow land and brush fields. The climate is extreme continental with cold winters and hot summers.
La Mancha is high plateau, of about 650 to 800 meters in height (2000 feet) and an area of more than 35000 Sq Km. (13500 sq miles). It is made of flat lands and hills with an extreme continental climate, with cold winters and long dry summers, scant rainfall, and large daily temperature changes.
Labeled "Denominación de Origen Protegida" (D.O.P.) Manchego Cheese has been protected by the Denomination of Origin since 1984. The D.O. that stipulates the exclusive use of milk from manchega sheep breed, as well as an aging period of a minimum of 60 days.