Manchego cheese is a symphony of unique flavors that you’d never imagine together, but somehow in this combination, they make perfect sense. It is a semi-hard cheese from sheep’s milk, both sweet and savory due to strokes of fruits, nuts, and even zesty flavor.
Manchego is also infused with aromatic herbs and the woven mold of grass that gives it that distinct taste.
When it comes to unique ingredients such as this one, you may wonder if they’re even replaceable? We’ve found some rather appealing options, so keep reading to find the best Manchego cheese substitute for your recipe.
The best substitutes for Manchego cheese
Manchego cheese is an ivory-colored aged cheese originating from Spain, and the older it is, the sharper flavor and texture you can expect. During the aging process, it develops more complex, toasty flavors and an incredible aroma that pairs well with almonds, honey, or marmalade.
It is produced from a firm sheep’s milk curd which is later cut and separated in order to strain the whey.
After the draining process, the cheese curd is stowed into a mold – traditionally a grass woven mold (although the store-bought industrial Manchego cheese comes from a plastic mold).
The cheese is then drained of any remaining whey, soaked in brine for that savory taste, and finally brushed in olive oil which locks in the moisture before the aging process.
Even though fresh Manchego can be consumed after only 2 weeks, the cheese can be aged for more than a year to develop its full complexity and depth.
Original Manchego cheese has no fillers or preservatives, it is gluten-free and unpasteurized, containing only raw sheep’s milk and natural ingredients. However, it usually does contain animal rennet, which means that it is not suitable for a vegetarian diet.
While sheep’s milk can sometimes be overbearing in cheese, that isn’t the case with Manchego cheese.
The taste of this cheese could be described as a perfect balance between mild and complex. Depending on the maturity, it is available in 4 versions:
- fresco (fresh Manchego cheese matured for 2 weeks minimum);
- semicurado (semi-firm Manchego aged at least 3 weeks, up to 4 months);
- curado (semi-firm Manchego, predominantly nutty, aged anywhere between 3-6 months);
- viejo (meaning old; aged from 1 to 2 years, rather firm, complex, and ideal for grating).
Manchego cheese is something you want to enjoy with a glass of cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir, quince, and garlic chutney. However, if you don’t have it at the moment and you’re in the middle of arranging your cheeseboard, here are some pretty good Manchego cheese alternatives.
1. Monterey jack
Monterey jack, also known simply as Jack cheese, is a semi-hard American cheese, high in fat, and extremely smooth and mild.
The versatility of this substitute for Manchego cheese is truly hard to match.
Monterey jack is also a great choice if you’re looking to substitute that unique Manchego cheese flavor on your cheeseboard. It complements the majority of wines, including Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, as well as red options such as Merlot or Pinot Noir.
2. Tomme de Brebis
Tomme de Brebis is a semi-soft French cheese, mostly made from sheep’s milk, which makes it an adequate Manchego cheese replacement.
Just like in Manchego cheese, the taste of sheep’s milk isn’t predominant in Tomme de Brebis, and the flavor could be described as mild.
However, if you’d like to avoid sheep’s milk altogether, there are variants of Tomme de Brebis made of cow’s milk.
Yet another similarity between Manchego and Tomme de Brebis is the enhancement of flavors and texture over time. The more it ages, the texture of the cheese becomes somewhat granular, and the flavors and aromas accentuated.
This is, without a doubt, one of the most famous and widely available Italian hard cheeses. The base of pecorino is also sheep’s milk, but in this case, the flavor is quite dominant, and it may be a lot for some people.
Due to its intensity and powerful aroma, pecorino is usually served in small doses, and it is an ideal choice for people who prefer aromatic, bold flavors over mild and subtle.
Pecorino cheese is a great addition to your pasta that can be added to a sauce for a fuller taste, or grated over a finished plate. You’ll find that younger, less mature pecorino has a slightly milder flavor and a softer texture if that’s what you’re looking for.
Comté comes from France, the region of Jura Massif, and it is generally made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. Just like Manchego, this cheese is also semi-hard, usually of pale yellow color, and the texture becomes even firmer and more grainy the older it gets.
When it comes to flavor, Comté is a mixture of savory, smokey, and nutty on one hand, and sweet and fruity on the other.
While Manchego can be consumed after only 2 weeks, Comté requires a ripening process of 4 months minimum, and it can be aged up to 24 months. It pairs well with wines such as Rhone reds or sherry.
Even though it is made from cow’s milk, asiago cheese is a quite good replacement for that unique Manchego cheese taste. Asiago originates from Northern Italy, and its texture can vary from medium to hard, depending on the level of maturity.
Just like Manchego, asiago can also be bought both fresh, semi-aged, and aged, so the color may vary from white to pale yellow.
When it comes to texture, asiago usually has many small, irregular holes all over, and it is generally of medium-firm consistency. When it comes to flavor, it is mostly mild, but still sour and sweet, with a nutty and yeasty aroma.
Zamorano is a delicious Manchego cheese alternative that is also produced from fresh, unpasteurized sheep’s milk. It comes from Spain, the region of Castilla-Leon, Zamora, and it has a bit harder texture than Manchego cheese, especially when mature.
Due to this type of consistency, it can be a bit crumbly which is something to keep in mind if you’re arranging it on your cheeseboard.
This Spanish cheese is more on the salty side, so you want to be careful with seasoning if you’re adding it to your dishes. Other than that, it has a nutty flavor that reminds of Manchego, and the aroma is rather sweet.
7. English cheddar
While there are numerous variations of the cheddar cheese, the original cheddar comes from England, and it is a hard cheese made of unpasteurized cow’s milk. For a milder taste, you want to look for an English cheddar aged for no longer than 3 months.
A more complex, deep flavor, on the other hand, requires maturing of at least 18 to 24 months. Although it is a hard cheese, English cheddar still retains that moisture that results in a smooth texture.
When matured, English cheddar has an enhanced nutty flavor. Since it melts at low temperatures, it is ideal for all kinds of dishes, including sauces, toast, and casseroles. It pairs well with cold meats, fruits, bread, and even pickles.
Yep, there is such a thing as chihuahua cheese, and it is actually a great replacement for Mexican Manchego cheese since it also originates from Mexico.
This cheese is also known as Queso Chihuahua, and it comes from the state of Chihuahua in Mexico. It is actually a variant of cheddar cheese, and it is a whitish-yellow color.
While cheddar is usually rather strong and aromatic, the chihuahua is mostly mild, and it has a semi-soft consistency.
It is suitable for melting, so you’ll love it on top of your loaded nachos, fries, as well as in sauces, fondues, and dips. It is also very common in Mexican cuisine, especially with chilaquiles and quesadillas.
Muenster cheese is an ideal substitute for Manchego cheese if you’re looking for that buttery, soft bite and a mild flavor.
Just like Manchego, the muenster also has a colored layer around it, which is usually red or orange.
The coloring of the Muenster outer layer comes from paprika, which is usually very subtle – and the entire rind is edible.
Muenster is also a good melting cheese, ideal for grilled cheese, sandwiches, pizza, tuna melts, mac and cheese, and hamburgers. While it is traditionally made with cow’s milk, you can also find some variants made with goat’s milk, if you’re fond of a stronger, bolder aroma.
This Manchego cheese replacement is a famous Italian hard, dry cheese typically made from skimmed or partially skimmed cow’s milk.
You’ll recognize it by a hard, golden rind, and white-yellowish interior. For a cheese to be called Parmigiano-Reggiano, it must be matured for at least 2 years, whereas stravecchio has been aged 3 years.
This hard cheese has a complex, strong, sharp flavor, which is no wonder considering the maturity period.
However, not everyone can produce a cheese and call it Parmigiano-Reggiano, since it has been trademarked by Italy. Only the cheese made in Italian provinces Bologna, Mantova, Modena, or Parma can carry this famous name.
Mozzarella exists in many shapes and forms, and it can be made with both pasteurized and unpasteurized cow’s or water buffalo’s milk. It is a semi-soft cheese of Italian origin, usually very mild, soft, yet rubbery and stringy on the inside.
The flavor is rather milky and fresh, so it may not be the best choice in recipes calling for a distinct, nutty aroma.
Thanks to its subtle taste, mozzarella is probably one of the most versatile cheeses. You can serve fresh mozzarella with some basil and tomato in your Caprese salad, or pair it with warm dishes since it melts beautifully.
Emmentaler, also known as Emmental cheese, is a popular pale yellow Swiss cheese, riddled with numerous holes. It is predominantly sweet, and it has a hard, thin rind that is completely edible. The flavor is also slightly nutty, with a hint of acidity and a fruity, yet buttery note.
Just like Manchego, Emmentaler delivers a rather complex, layered flavor profile.
While you may think that the holes in this cheese have been purposely made for aesthetic reasons, the truth is that they naturally appear during the aging process.
The natural gas in the cheese forms air pockets within the cheese, which grow larger the more cheese matures.
Edam cheese often referred to as Edamer, originally comes from the Netherlands, and it can be made both from cow’s and goat’s milk – both pasteurized. This is a compact, semi-hard type of cheese that has a waxed rind and usually a pale yellow color. Edam has a flavor profile similar to Manchego cheese since it’s nutty and salty, yet mild.
When Edam cheese is made, excess whey is extracted, just like with Manchego cheese. This step doesn’t only allow it to mature into a semi-hard cheese, but it also removes any trace of acidity and bitterness. The wax rind around it has two important roles: to protect the cheese against contamination and to ease transportation.
How to choose a Manchego cheese substitute
With so many delicious Manchego cheese alternatives, it can be rather challenging to find the right one for your recipe.
If you want a mild flavor, yet still complex, nutty, and aromatic enough to elevate your dish, you can go wrong with Monterey jack, Tomme de Brebis, comté, asiago, Emmentaler, or Edam. Keep in mind that all of these cheeses will have an even stronger aroma if they’re aged.
In case you’re going for that dominant, crisp, strong flavor, choose Pecorino, Zamorano, English cheddar, or Parmigiano-Reggiano. These options are hard cheeses that have aged for months, if not years, and they’ve fully developed their complexity.
Chihuahua, Muenster, and Mozzarella are usually softer, and they offer a mild, more subtle flavor than the alternatives we’ve mentioned before.