Manchego: Fig’s New Partner

Manchego Cheese and Fig
Manchego Cheese and Fig

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Last week, I rekindled my interest in Manchego, thanks to some grilled figs and a jar of honey.

A friend served this combination at a party, using fresh figs from her backyard tree. Manchego, a subtle Spanish sheep’s milk cheese, was just the right accent, draped over each fig half to form a tiny, briny duvet cover.

Manchego is a salty lover. Think of seaside air, perspiring brows. This salinity makes Manchego a fine foil for traditional Spanish sides, like quince paste (also known as membrillo) and Marcona almonds, or cracked green olives plugged with lemon peel.

In Spain, Manchego is a household name. Its knit-like rind makes it easy to spot, and its buttery texture and mild disposition make it perfect for hot weather snacking, especially post-siesta, with a glass of cava served to you on pillows.

Many Spanish cheeses, like this one, are predictably mellow. Think of Mahon, Roncal, Idiazabal. They are good to serve in summer, along with melon and Spanish ham. Nervous nibblers find them delightful, especially pool-side, served with nuts and beer.

To sample a broad range of Spanish cheeses, try Manchego alongside a slab of creamy Leonora and a hunk of Valdeon or Cabrales. The latter two are blues, and both are wonderfully sharp. Valdeon is leaf-wrapped and sweetly piquant, while Cabrales is full of fire. You’ll need a sweet Spanish sherry to quell the flames.

For a quick tapas supper, try serving these three cheeses with fruit, cured meats and crusty bread. My favorite pairings include: canteloupe, fresh figs, serrano ham, honey, almonds or walnuts, and green olives.

All of those flavors – from musky sweet to pork-salty – play beautifully off Spanish cheeses. And if you have leftover figs and Manchego, you know what to do.

For other pool-side cheese observations, please visit Madame Fromage.