A Bit of History
It may seem a bit surprising that Spanish cheeses have not held a place at the world table as have those of France or Italy. The primary reason for this is that Franco’s dictatorship, after the Spanish Civil War, outlawed the production of artisan cheeses in the name of modernization and industrial quotas. Most of the small producers became cheese outlaws and went underground, continuing to make their cheeses in rural regions for the locale. However, many other cheeses disappeared completely.
In 1975, following Franco’s death, the Spanish were finally able to revive their traditional cheese heritage and rediscover their artisanal heritage. These artisan 'outlaws' were then able to come out of 'hiding' and bring their cheeses out in public. Unfortunately, some of these cheeses had been lost.
However, Spanish cheese goes way back in time. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a cheese very similar to Manchego cheese being produced several centuries BC. From this time onwards, in each region of Spain, a unique style of cheese would have evolved, depending on the terrain, the type of animal that thrived there, and the climate. A wide range of sheep’s milk cheeses developed over the years in Spain’s dry interior, while the richer pastures and green mountains of the Northern coast and some of Spain’s islands, in more recent history, began to produce creamy cows milk cheeses. Throughout history, the goat has been the poor man's source of dairy. Fresh goat's cheese for immediate consumption would have been made all over Spain.
In some ways, this break in the cycle of traditional cheese making is what makes the cheese of Spain so wonderful today, since it was so much less involved in the mainstream of modernization and industrialization during the early years. Those that were making cheese during this period were working 'below the radar' and thus keeping things small scale and traditional in many of the rural valley and mountain regions - much the same as had been done for centuries.
Because of the smaller scale and the fact that these were small farms and they kept a broad mix of milking herds to adapt to the diversity and climate of their particular region, many of the traditional cheeses were made of mixed cow, goat, and ewes milk. This was truly farmstead in nature, where the herd's person was also the cheese maker and they used whatever milk they had on the farm. The fact that the mix would vary considerably during the seasons would make the cheeses all that more interesting.
This has preserved many of the regional cheeses that are now coming back into production. In some regions today, people like Enric are asking questions and listening to the elders who made these cheeses before Franco's time and they are slowly bringing back some of these traditional cheeses.
What is Hispanico Cheese?Like Manchego, Hispanico comes from the La Mancha region of Spain. (Yes, the same region as Don Quixote and "tipping at windmills.")
This region is a high plateau that stretches south of the capital, Madrid, encompassing the ancient, walled city of Toledo before reaching the beautiful Sierra Morena. The Muslims who inhabited the land from the 8th through the 11th centuries dubbed it "Manya," which meant "land without water." Eventually, that would translate into "Mancha," the name that is used today.
Hispanico is very similar to Manchego made with 100% cows milk and is made in the same forms that were used to make the original crosshatch designs (from the plaited Esparta grass linings) which the inhabitants developed to encourage proper draining.
This is one of the most popular cheeses in Spain. This firm cheese is mild, yet tasty and aromatic. It is typically served as a table cheese, but is also appropriate for cooking.
It pairs well with Spanish red wines and cured meats, such as Chorizo and Jamon Serrano.