Manzanares, Spain - A hidden treasure in the heart of La Mancha,the namesake of Manchego cheese
Updated: Sep 23, 2022
Legend has it that Manzanares was at one time a major crossing point for sheep migrations when herds went looking for better pastures. This created an industry around them and things they help to make. Cheese from this city and greater region of La Mancha is indeed legiondary. Most cheese lovers will have tried some Manchego cheese, if not, at least will have heard of it. It has always been one of my favorites and I was very much excited to visit a place steeped in such a rich cheese making history.
Manzanares is a relatively small place and the hotel options were not many. However, I found a very cozy place on the outskirts of the town which was perfect for my short stay. While I was there, I had a delicious dinner which included a delectable cheese plate appetizer with 4 varieties of the local Manchego cheese. What a perfect way to start my visit! I will include some links to the hotel near the bottom of the post.
I then took a brief walk into town and beelined for the closest cheese shop that I could find. I found a few in town but only one that seemed to make the cheese on-site so I went there. Called Quesos El Hidalgo, it was a large factory and I assume a distribution center with a small cheese shop inside. The variety of cheeses available was stunning, especially considering all of them were locally sourced! (Link to this factory at the bottom)
It would have been best to have stopped at the store last, but it was closing early in the afternoon and I had some other sites on the agenda. Many businesses in Spain close for a period of time in the afternoon and some re-open in the evening.
Next, I stopped in at the Manchego cheese museum. This spot was the impetus for bringing me to Manzanares. The museum is free and easy to find in the middle of the small town center. It is a small museum, only a handful of rooms and displays but very interesting and educational. Attached to the museum is and art gallery dedicated to local artists and cheese themed artworks. You can see some of my favorites below. Also, they have a display dedicated to the life of a local legend who was known for his skill in bull-fighting.
I found the museum to be a refreshing stop. While they do offer some cheeses on site, I had already purchased some at the factory shop earlier.
Continuing on, I made reservations to eat a late lunch in the town center. I chose the venue based on its amazing historical and architectural appeal. Serving as both a hotel and a restaraunt, Castillo de Pilas Bonas is a castle believed to have been built around 1239 that stands as a prime reminder of Spain's turbulent past. I have never had a meal in such a history steeped setting. The food and service was phenominal.
I spent about a day and a half in Manzanares and I can honestly say it was the most peaceful visit I have had in a while. Tourism was at a minimum and most of the places I visited were very quiet. If you are looking for a serene visit while staying in Madrid or near central Spain, definitely give this town a look!
Now, for the cheeses that I bought! I purchased two different kinds. I didn't have room for much else in my cooler bag so I decided to keep it simple. Manchego is a cheese usually made from the milk of sheep and aged around 60 days. A defining characteristic is the mold that is used which imprints the zig-zag braids along the side of the wheel. The cheese is pressed and salted before aging.
Queso de Oveja Curado
7.5 out of 10
-Fruity, grassy, and creamy
-Grooved rind, better left on the plate
Queso de Cabra con Vino Tinto
7.5 out of 10
-Fruity and zesty with a bold red wine flavor
-Grooved rind, also better left on the plate
-Medium-hard almost oily texture
Manchego cheeses will remain at the top of my list of favorites. Like many other culinary traditions in Spain, they have a long and storied history.
Thanks for reading!