Manchego Cheese Making Recipe Instructions
A Recipe for Making Manchego
The recipe below is for a 4 gallon batch of 100% ewes milk even though some of the images are from a more recent make session of a larger batch.
This could also be made from a mixed milk of goat and ewes milk as was quite common a few generations ago, I still see this done on some farms in Spain.
It could even be tried with a full Cow milk but the yield would be less since the solid components in Ewes milk are so much higher. If using goat or cows milk the rennet may need to be increased slightly (try ~20% more).
The important thing is to focus on the individual concepts of the process and take good notes. Future batches can be modified for an even more costomized cheese.
Note: This is a guide for intermediate to advanced cheese makers with some experience.
Also there is a lot of technical info in this guideline so read it through a few times before you begin. The finised cheese will make it well worth your time.
Acidify & Heat Milk
As mentioned the milk used for this guide is 4 gallons of freshly milked ewes milk from an Amish farm in PA.Begin by heating the milk to 72F. You do this by placing the pot of milk into a larger pot or sink of very warm water. If you do this in a pot on the stove make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats.
CheeseGeek Alert: The cultures MA4001/4002 (they are pretty much the same) is often called 'the Farmstead culture'. This is because it represents the base of bacteria normally found in a farms raw milk. This would include both meso and thermo style cultures plus the meso would contain both the main acid producers (lactis & cremoris) PLUS the AROMATIC portion made up of the bacteria responsible for a bit of gas production and the buttery flavor components.
This would be the base bacteria in almost all raw milk (raw milk would still have a lot more complex native culture mix though).
The AROMATIC portion is why we use the lower temperature. We start the milk at about 72F to give these cultures their more preferred temperature range so that they can compete against those that like more tropical conditions. This will allow them to strengthen their population base before the other culture bacteria kick in and thus levels the playing field so they all can contribute their character to the final cheese. The aromatic culture only needs about 15-20 min. head start at this lower temperature though.
Once the milk is at 72F the culture can be added. I find that about 3/8-1/2 tsp works well depending on the milk being used.
To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.
The ripening of the milk needs to be done in 2 temperature steps:
- The milk needs to be kept at 72F for about 15-20 min
- Next heat the milk to 86F using direct heat or very hot water added to the water bath. Do this temperature increase quickly while stirring slowly then hold the milk at 86F for another 30 min
During this two stage heating, the culture will begin doing its work. It will be very slow initially but will soon kick into a more rapid rate, converting lactose to lactic acid.
While waiting for the milk to ripen, it would be a good time to sanitize your molds and draining surfaces for the final stages of the process. The molds I will be using here for another batch are a 2-3 gallon plastic mold made for the commercial Manchego industry in Spain and a traditional plaited strap of 'Esparto' grass that can be coiled into a round form and tied off for cheeses of varying sizes. Both will leave the traditional pattern on the cheese. The photos were from an 8 gallon batch portioned between the 2 molds at a ratio of 1:3.
Coagulate with Rennet
Once the milk has had a chance to ripen as described, then add about 2.5ml (about 1/2tsp) of single strength liquid rennet and stir the milk slowly for about 1-2 minutes.
The milk now needs to sit quiet for 30 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd.
You should notice the milk beginning to thicken (floculation) at about 15 minutes but do wait the full 30 minutes before testing the curd set.
This will be a relatively soft curd because it would be more difficult to cut to the small size described in the next section.
Remember to always check the curd firmness before cutting. Extend the time if needed and make note of this. Adjust the rennet amount in future batches if needed to hit the targets above.
The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period. It is OK if the temp drops a few degrees during this time. You can add heat once the curd has been cut and you can stir slowly.
Cut Curd & Release Whey
Manchego is a very compact cheese to accommodate the varying degrees of aging. Therefore the curds need to be cut quite small. When done they should be about the size of small maize to barley grains.
Begin cutting by using a long knife to cut vertical only in both directions to about 3/4 to 1" sections and let rest 5 minutes while the cuts heal. This is a common procedure in cutting any higher fat milk to control loss of butterfat. It simply breaks the curd mass into small sections as we reduce the curd size. You should see whey rising in these cuts and to the surface in that time.
Your next cut will be to reduce the grains to about 3/8-1/4 inch and the cooking phase will reduce the size further to the maize/barley grain size. This reduction should take about 5 min.
All stirring should be slow and gentle in a down and up motion, just enough to keep the curds separate and moving.
Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. This will be done by increasing the heat slowly to 98F-102F depending on the milk (higher fat needs a bit more heat). The heat needs to be increased slowly at about 3F every 5 minutes at the beginning. The total cooking time will be 40-50 minutes and may be extended if the curds are still soft. The dryness will be related to aging time. Drier curds for longer aging and more complex flavor (keep aging time short in the first few batches to avoid failure disappointment after long aging).
The final curds should be cooked well through and should be examined to make sure that enough moisture has been removed. A broken curd should be firm throughout and the curds should have a moderate resistance when pressed between the fingers. When a handful of curds are pressed in the hand and released, the curds should easily separate with a bit of thumb pressure, not stick together.
When this point is reached the curds can be allowed to settle under the whey
Once the curds have settled to the bottom, the whey can be removed down to about 2 in. above the curd mass.
The curd mass can now be collected to one side of the vat into a compact roundish form with a little hand pressure. I use a piece of medium draining mat to facilitate the gathering. Once it is gathered I use a perforated stainless plate and a gallon of warm water as weight (about 8 lbs.) to consolidate the curds under the whey. This only needs to be about 15 min.
Pressing under the whey functions to remove many of the mechanical holes in a cheese by sqeezing much of the collected whey out without allowing air to fill the spaces. The resulting cheese is much more compact as shown in the picture here.
Forming & Pressing
At this point we have a consolidated curd mass ready to be transferred to the mold.
If the mass is a bit irregular and not quite perfect fit for the mold, relax, its not stone and is very plastic still. You can fit a square peg into a round hole as shown in the picture below.
I take my large mass and cut 1/4 of the wheel for a small mold then bring the remaining 3/4 into a round form to fit the large mold plaited 'Esparto' grass mold. A bit of weight and time will put it all right again.No draining cloths should be needed for this if the vat pressing gives a good solid curd. I normally just move the cheese as formed into the forms. The 'Esparto' grass form actually drains better than cloth though. Perhaps if using the larger plastic forms a cloth may help as shown in a following series of pics.
Weight for the cheese will begin with firm hand pressing to get the curd mass tucked into the mold tight and will remove most of the residual whey in the curd mass. Once this is done a 10-15 lb. weight for the smaller cheese and about 25 lbs for the larger one. This is in line with dairies in Spain where they use a final weight of about 4-5 times the initial cheese weight.
The pliable nature of the warm cheese does leave a bit of a collar that sneaks out around the edges and needs to be trimmed off with a sharp knife. Some folks tend to do this right out of the mold but I find doing it post salting dries out this thin piece and makes it easier to get a clean cut.
The key to pressing is consolidation AND forming a nice tight rind with no holes or folds for mold to get into the interior. The patterns of traditional forms was tight enough that the irregularities on the surface were not a problem.
If your cheese is still not closing on the surface post pressing, then they either:
- need more weight/time in the press
- were too dry and changes should be made in your process for a moister curd to press
After about 7 hours under weight and an overnight rest, the finished cheese shows how nicely it takes the pattern of the mold.
The cheese can either be dry salted or brined. I have done both. I actually prefer the dry salting.
For dry salting: I use about 2% of the pressed cheese weight in salt and salt the top and sides 1st day. I allow this to dissolve and soak into the cheese on the second day and on the 3rd day turn the cheese and repeat this on the other surface and sides again. I repeat this so that each surface gets 2-3 doses of salt so it can take a week or two to complete. It tends to form a firmer and more durable rind for aging because it tends to draw moisture from the cheese more quickly.. The brining should be done in a cool room (below 60F) and medium moisture to prevent cracking
For Brining: you should have a saturated brine prepared for salting this cheese.
You will find all of the details you need on brining here.
The cheese now needs to be set in the brine for about 3-4 hours. per lb. of pressed cheese
The cheese will float above the brine surface so sprinkle another teaspoon or 2 of salt on the top surface of the cheese.
Flip the cheese and resalt the surface about half way through the brine period.
At the end salting in either case, wipe the surface and allow the cheese to surface dry for a day or two moving to the cave. The surface will darken somewhat during this time.
I suppose you could wax this cheese but please don't tell me if you do. The same goes for the plastic coat they tend to paint on in the cheese factories in Spain. But personally, I feel this defeats the purpose of making such a beautiful cheese by hand.
For aging the cheese I am a HUGE fan of Natural Rinds. Either allowing natural molds to grow for a protective surface or for the brushed rinds that are oil rubbed.
However in Spain I found in visiting talking to cheese makers in their caves that they never brush their rinds. They just allow the natural molds to grow on the surface for weeks or months and then rub the mold surface into the cheese with a bit of oil. They only do this a few time during the 2-3 months or more of aging.
If you ever wondered why the Spanish cheeses are Grey/Black, rubbing the mold in rather than brushing it off is the reason. It does create a very dramatic and beautiful surface with the traditional pattern. There is no reason why you shouldn't taste this either. The rind is where everything dries out a bit and becomes concentrated and this is the interface where everything in the cheese comes and goes during aging. Sometimes you see the cleaned blond/buff colored rinds, these have been brushed clean during the process of aging.
One one of my most recent batches the mold was allowed to grow quite extensively. Periodically it was rubbed into the surface with oil,this cheese aged for about 2.5 months, when I just couldn't resist tasting it any longer.
The aging for this cheese will be done at my standard 52-54F but will require a bit higher moisture of 85-90%.
The time frame depends on the dryness of the cheese but in Spain they are either semi-aged at 60 day fully-aged at 90 days or special-aged up to a year or more, very spicy.
There is also a Fresco style found in the Mercato that is very young and like butter though.
Bonus: Butter from Whey
Making Butter from Whey:
Because higher fat cheese is so much more likely to release butterfat when cutting I always save the whey in sanitized buckets and allow them to sit cool overnight.
The next morning I skim the butterfat and make butter from it by then the culture has given me a nice tangy cultured butter.
From the batch photographed here I made a nice 1 pound ball of butter.