What is Manchego? Simply put, it is a sheep’s milk cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain. It is aged anywhere from two months to two years. It has a firm, compact consistency with a buttery texture and a distinctive flavor that is well developed, but not too strong.
In the Cervantes novel titled Don Quixote, the man of La Mancha and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, spend many pages nibbling on Manchego cheese and washing it down with generous amounts of wine. I think they would have liked marinated Manchego.
I look for cheese that is two or three months old because it has a softer consistency. For the marinade I use a Minneola which is a hybrid of a grapefruit and a mandarin tangerine. Minneolas are juicy and tart, and easy to peel with only a few seeds. Perfect for this recipe. Begin making this a day ahead of time. The prep is elaborate but worth the time and effort.
2 heads garlic
1½ cups olive oil (divided)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
½ cup water
16 ounces young Manchego cheese (cut into ¼-inch pieces)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary (chopped very fine)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (chopped very fine)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut ¼” off top of garlic bulbs and place on a sheet of foil. Drizzle with ¼ cup oil and season with salt. Wrap tightly in foil and bake until skin is golden brown and cloves are tender, 35–40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Squeeze garlic cloves into a large bowl.
Using a potato peeler or zester, scrape the peel of the Minneola to get as much peel (but not the white pith beneath) as possible. Cut ½-inch off top and bottom of the Minneola and cut lengthwise into quarters. Squeeze juice from flesh into a small bowl and set aside.
Cut the peel/zest into ¼” pieces and place in a small saucepan. Cover peels with cold water. Bring to a boil then drain. Repeat process twice more to remove bitterness (cold water, boil, drain). Return orange peels to saucepan and add sugar, water, and juice to make a syrup. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until peels are soft and liquid is syrupy – about 20–30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Add orange syrup, Manchego, rosemary, thyme, and remaining oil to the bowl with the garlic and gently toss to combine. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours before serving. Bring marinated Manchego to room temperature before plating. While Manchego is coming to room temperature, gently warm baguette in oven. Serve Manchego with warm baguette.
Tip: The Manchego can be marinated up to 5 days ahead of time. Cover and chill until ready to use.