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Manchego + Mesón!

With authenticity , provenance , and terroir ever the buzzwords in foodie and restaurant circles, we turn our attention to Spain's larg...

With authenticity, provenance, and terroir ever the buzzwords in foodie and restaurant circles, we turn our attention to Spain's largest natural region, Castilla-La Mancha, and the opportunity to know more about the fascinating heritage and modern versatility of what could just be the country's most noteworthy edible export: Manchego cheese.


Of Time and Place...
One of the oldest cheeses in Spain, Manchego's consumption dates back several centuries BC. The region of La Mancha, immortalized in Cervantes' towering 2-part novel Don Quixote and christened by the Arabs 'Al Mansha' or 'land without water', perfectly describes the dry, hard, and arid climate of the area located 6000 meters above sea level, and the breeding ground for Manchega sheep who feast on the indigenous vegetation, and whose milk used to craft the cheese gives it its signature spicy and salty flavour notes with herbal undertones.  It's thanks to this unique set of conditions, along with age-old production methods, that Manchego not only derives its singular composition and flavour, but would be impossible to reproduce anywhere else. 


Asset Protection...
El Consejo Regulador de la denominacion de origen, or Controlled Denomination of Origin (DO) is Spain's multi-pronged regulatory body responsible for certifying, protecting, and limiting the labelling of local products to their source.  For our subject, this means that no cheese coming fom outside the zone's 32,000 square feet can be labelled 'Manchego' (very much like the highly-prized bubbly coming from France's Champagne region).  Among its other activities, the consejo also guarantees the cheese's quality due to a rigorous manufacturing process developed with respect for the environment and prepared according to traditional methods, as well as informs and educates consumers on the product's characteristics. In possession of its DO seal since 1984, the PR efforts are clearly paying dividends in this country as every year, of the 7.8 million kilos of Manchego exported from Spain, 70,000 kilos make their way to Canadians. 

The Best Way to Know...Taste! 
Often compared with Italy's Parmigiano Reggiano, another 'centrepiece' cheese with similar nutty, slightly sharp bites, Manchego is very distinct from the granular cow's milk Italian cheese, and is known for its smoother, creamier texture. 


As with wine, Manchego can be aged to varying degrees: semi-curado (3 months), curado (6 months), viejo (1 year), and anejo (more than 1 year), and is ideally paired with wine that follows the cheese's age - young, dry reds for a younger batch and more full-bodied wines for a cheese that has undergone significant aging. Red wine not your thing?  No problem as it works just as well with a nutty brown beer or white wine with good acidity. Best served at room temperature either with tapas or as part of a charcuterie spread, Manchego, like all hard cheeses, is naturally low in lactose and richer in proteins than meat, making it both more suitable for sensitive stomachs and an ideal choice for vegetarians. 


Of coursewhen a cheese this good presents itself, the entire meal could easily take shape around it, as was the case at one of the city's prized Spanish bistros, Villeray's Mesón. It was here that some of the city' top foodie and culture aficionados were invited for a spirited afternoon involving a conference by Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Manchego President, Mr. Ignacio Barco with the collaboration of leading cheese importer/distributor Maxime Paulhus Gosselin of Les Dépendences, followed by a tasting of different types of Manchego, and an assortment of specially-conceived tapas featuring the star ingredient prepared by Mesón's Marie-Fleur St.Pierre.


The facts laid out courtesy of the knowledgeable and charismatic Messrs. Barco and Gosselin, the floor was then turned over to Marie-Fleur who, with her considerable passion and experience, put theory into practice and presented us with a delectable array of plates. Luckily for us (and all the home cooks reading), we managed to get our hands on the recipes designed for the occasion, some of which are fixtures on the popular neighbourhood restaurant's menu, as well as at sister restaurant down the block, Tapeo.


Throughout the tasting, we were served the following 2 wines you'll want to pick up for a guaranteed harmonious marriage. Olé!

White: Blanco de Tempranillo. A private import available on vinprive.ca, this is a white wine obtained from a red grape in what the French call a blanc de noir. Light, and straightforward, it works great as an aperitif with a refreshing sensation of citrus and ripe fruit.


     

Red: Pago del Vicario, Penta 2011. Available at the SAQ ($17.55, code 11155500).  Deep garnet in colour, a strong nose releasing fragrances of black currants plum, and violet gives way to a pleasant freshness, firm tannins, and ample texture. 


The Recipes...

Manchego-Stuffed Olives
20 pitted green olives
80 gr. Manchego, cut into 20 small pieces
1/4 cup flour
2 beaten eggs
1/4 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil for frying
1 rosemary sprig, finely chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin (optional)



Stuff each olive with the Manchego. In three separate bowls, place the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs. Roll each olive in the flour, then the egg and breadcrumbs. Heat oil to 350 degrees in a deep fryer or heavy-bottom skillet. Fry the olives for about 1 minute. During the last 20 seconds, add the rosemary. Drain well on absorbent paper. Sprinkle with ground cumin (if desired), and serve warm or at room temperature.


Manchego Escabeche
400 gr. Manchego, cubed
3/4 cup vermouth or dry sherry
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 onion, finely chopped
2 thyme sprigs
1 tsp. whole peppercorns
1 tsp. Espelette pepper
Slices of Serrano, quince jelly, anchovy fillets, chopped apple, crusty bread



In a small saucepan add the three liquids, thyme, peppercorns, and Espelette pepper. Infuse over medium heat for about three minutes. Cool the liquid to room temperature. In a bowl, place onion and cheese cubes.  Add the liquid so as to cover everything. Marinate in refrigerator for 6-24 hours. Serve with desired toppings and a good piece of crusty bread.


Tomato Salad with Creamy Manchego Vinaigrette
Dressing
1 minced French shallot
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard 
4 tbsp. sherry vinegar
1 egg yolk
Fleur de sel
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grated Manchego
1 - 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 tbsp. cream



Salad
2 very ripe tomatoes cut into quarters
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 tbsp. tablespoons grated Manchego
Freshly ground pepper

In a blender, combine the shallot, mustard, vinegar and egg yolk. Slowly add the vegetable oil to emulsify. Add the Manchego, cream, salt and lots of pepper. Check the texture and adjust seasoning with a little sherry vinegar if needed. Refrigerate vinaigrette to keep it cold. In a bowl, combine tomatoes, walnuts, celery, and Manchego. Add dressing and toss. Serve in small plates and pepper generously.


Manchego Veal Meatballs
2 lbs. ground veal 
1 tbsp piri piri
1 cup Manchego, grated
1 cup bread crumbs
1-2 cups milk
1/2 cup chopped Spanish chorizo into small pieces 
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups tomato sauce
1 cup water or chicken stock



In a large bowl, combine veal, chorizo, cheese, bread crumbs and milk. The mixture should be wet enough to form tender dumplings but be easy to manipulate. Add piri piri and season with salt, pepper. Roll into balls of about 50 gr. each. Arrange in an ovenproof gratin dish. Cover with tomato sauce and water. Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes. Serve meatballs with the hot cooking sauce.


Manchego-Stuffed Pork Cutlets with Asparagus Bechamel
4 very thin pork cutlets, about 140 gr. each
80 gr. Manchego, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. butter
A little white wine



Bechamel
35 gr. butter
35 gr. flour
1 garlic clove, minced
400 ml. chicken stock
200 ml. of milk
Salt and pepper
2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup asparagus, finely chopped 
A little tabasco sauce

For the sauce, melt the butter with the garlic over low heat, and add flour. Stir and cook over low heat, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, milk, nutmeg and asparagus. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes or  until the béchamel takes on a smooth consistency. Season with salt, pepper and a little tabasco sauce. Let cool. Spread out the pork cutlets, season well with salt and pepper. Cover each one with a thin layer of béchamel sauce and Manchego cheese. Roll each cutlet tightly. In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown the pork cutlets with butter. Deglaze with a little white wine. Turn off the heat and pour the bechamel over the cutlets until covered halfway up. Finish cooking in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve.


Beef Tartare
280 gr. beef tenderloin cut into small cubes
1 French shallot, chopped
90 gr. Manchego, grated
3 tbsp. mixed herbs (tarragon, chives, parsley) 
2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
4 piquillio peppers, finely chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard 
Juice of 1 lemon 
1 tsp. Espelette pepper
16 slices of baguette bread
60 gr. Manchego, grated
A little olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste



Season each crouton with Manchego, salt, pepper and olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees until the croutons are golden. Let cool. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, hot sauce or lemon juice. Serve cold with baguette and Manchego croutons.

Buen provecho!


D.H. + D.G.








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