Love Manchego? I do- even the more generic, bulk-made versions. It’s still a delicious, sheepy, satisfying cheese. There are those who poo-poo Manchego, of course, in favor of the recent explosion of smaller-batch, farmstead, artisan traditional Spanish cheeses… and one that is often raised up as a better alternative is Roncal.
Cheese: Roncal Artesano
Who: Various, under the control of the University of the Seven Val de Roncal Villages
Where: Val del Roncal, Spain
Milk Type: Lacha and Rasa-Araganesa sheep, raw
Texture: firm to hard
Shape: ~2-6lb rounds
Flavor: straw, salt, green olives, dry brush, butter
Made from unwritten, guarded recipes by hand in traditional manners, Roncal draws its milk from sheep that are seasonally moved from pasture to pasture. From high in the Pyrénées of Navarra, made in in just seven villages in the Roncal Valley, the process yields a cheese that is highly variable, unlike the factory homogenization of much (not all!) Manchego.
Roncal can be more, or less salty.
Obviously it’s sheepy. Brought up to room temperature it develops that lanolin-ish sheen and the characteristic nose of wooly ruminant.
The nose, and the flavor may also evoke dry straw, hot, dusty dried wild aromatics and perhaps a bit of green olive, especially a saltier round. It’s an excellent cheese for eating plainly. If you find that sheeps milk cheeses are about as strong a flavor as you like, Roncal would make a good ending to a mild Spanish-centered cheese board along with Marcona almonds, Castelvetrano olives and a good fruit spread. I find it an excellent bridge in the middle of the board to more robust and challenging flavors. I’d like to try it as a prelude to Cabrales. Pair it with a good Spanish red, perhaps a well-aged Tempranillo/Rioja.
Experience the flavor of the Navarra… I have little idea what he’s saying 😉