Manchego: A cheese that is worth the pain

Everyone subscribes to certain hierarchies. Mine goes: God, my wife, our daughter — and then Manchego

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published August 13, 2023 1:30PM (EDT)

Manchego cheese (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Manchego cheese (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Life is about hierarchies. Everyone subscribes to some type of hierarchy, even the ones who swear they don't. Mine goes: God, my wife, our daughter  — and then Manchego.Yes, Manchego. "Oh God, I am so thankful for Manchego," is what I should be saying when I pray. 

A type of cheese ranking so high is weird for me because I shouldn't have it. I have lactose intolerance, which means I can't fully digest the sugar in milk. As a result, I sweat, get the bubble guts, cramp up and my belly rounds out like I swallowed a globe. But still, I eat Manchego as if it is on the verge of extinction.

I'm not a scientist but my basic observations have taught me that white people get way more excited when they see a piece of cheese than any Black person does and that is probably because Black people are more likely to struggle with dairy products. The Boston Children's Hospital reported that "80 percent of all African-Americans and Native Americans are lactose intolerant." 

And knowing this, I still chose Manchego, and will continue to do so. 

I met the cheese on a beautiful fall night at the Charleston, a fine dining restaurant in the Harbor East section of Baltimore. My wife, who was then my date, lit up like a liberal at a Birkenstock sale when the waiter made rounds with a glass case that was loaded with all kinds of cheeses of infinite shapes, colors and smells. "Is that…" her eyes gleamed,  jaw dropping to the floor, as she placed both of her tiny hands over her heart. "Is that Manchego?" she asked. 

"What's Manchego?" I said, like a pedestrian, "Sounds gross, like a rare form of snot. Can I order another gimlet with you?" 

The waiter nodded. My wife rolled her eyes way up in her head. 

"Manchego is the best cheese you will ever have." The server nodded in agreement again, placing a healthy hunk onto my wife's plate.  She carefully carved a thin piece and aimed it in my direction. And I guess the stars were aligned, because I chose a wine pairing with my four-course meal that night and was already enjoying a full bodied red zin, one that paired perfectly with the rock of cheese I was about to consume. That first nibble felt like I had just bit into a piece of vacation. 

From that day, I continued to buy the expensive cheese and chipped off nuggets to enjoy with my wine–– red, white or whatever, it works. And then one day, I had a crazy realization, a vision that allowed me to see myself doing more with this cheese. Yes, it can be expensive. However, so is life and I should be working to enjoy it more. 

My journey started with eggs — I fried a few egg whites and applied some shaved Manchego as a self-melting garnish. Delicious. 

"I know you're not using that expensive cheese on some eggs," my wife said sniffing it out like a little Manchego addict.

I chose omission buried in laughter and the Houdini exit. "Have a blessed day, baby, I have to run to work!"

And then I tried this with sautéed spinach and opinions. Delicious again. And then on my grits, and on a burger (which I think the world should try). Then on a turkey sandwich and then once on a grilled cheese, even though that would be a habit no one could afford. And, of course, I keep eating it on its own. 

I've eaten it so much that I think it doesn't even make me sick anymore either. That, or it's so good that the cheese is worth the pain.

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Cheese Commentary Lactose Intolerance Manchego Spanish