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  1. Since I waxed poetic (or waned pathetic, take your pick) about my little wedge of Comté, the largest-production A.O.C. Cheese in France, I figure I might as well do the same for my little wedge of Manchego, the largest-production D.O. Cheese in Spain. I purchased this El Trigal ("The Wheatfield") Manchego from Whole Foods, at the same time I purchased my block of Comté. These legendary cheeses are both semi-firm, and are more resilient to damage than soft, buttery, cow's-milk cheese (Comté is made from cow's milk, but isn't "soft and buttery"; Manchego is made from 100% Manchega sheep (both words, Manchego and Manchega, mean "from La Mancha"). "Quesos Corcuera," (<--- click for their website, which has a wealth of information available in English) makers of El Trigal, was founded 70 years ago in the town of La Puebla de Montalbán, near Toledo, in the region of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain, by a gentleman named Don Eusebio Corcuera. It has been passed down, and is now run by his daughter, Carmen, after his sons, Ramon and Carlos, passed away. It is now one of the five-largest producers of cheese in Spain, and one of Don Eusebio's grandchildren is actively involved with the company. There are currently 27 D.O. ("Denominación de Origen")-regulated cheeses in Spain, and as stated above, Manchego is the largest-production D.O. cheese in Spain (A.O.C. and D.O. are each country's version of essentially the same thing: government-regulated and protected cheeses (as well as other products)). Again, instead of merely copying down the D.O. requirements, I'll link to them here. The term "P.D.O." is an EU (European-Union) term that's similar to - and might be the same as - "D.O.," but D.O. was around long before P.D.O., so that's the one I tend to focus on; I suspect there's just another layer of bureaucracy associated with P.D.O. status. There are at least three different "ages" of Manchego, all of which are produced by Quesos Corcuera: 1) Semi-Curado (around 3 months) 2) Curado (around 6 months) and 3) Viejo (around 1 year). Manchego *must* be aged between 60 days and 2 years (it can be aged only 30 days for cheeses weighing less than 1.5 kg). The aging requirements are covered in the D.O. link in the above paragraph. There's also a "Fresco" that's produced for local consumption, which is aged for about 2 weeks, but to the best of my knowledge, this isn't found outside of Spain, and isn't a D.O. Manchego. This is the equivalent of drinking a Beaujolais Nouveau - something fresh, fruity, and quaffable; not meant to be scrutinized too closely, but perfectly fine for everyday dining at home (at least, that's my guess). If you put a piece of Comté and Manchego side-by-side, and are told which is which, there's nobody in the world who couldn't tell the difference between the two. If you're a complete cheese novice, you may want to do this as an exercise - you'll see that you "get it," and I promise you that you'll identify them correctly each and every time. There's no "roughness" whatsoever in a Comté, whereas there's no "smoothness" whatsoever in a Manchego - and I'm just talking about texture and appearance. Why *not* embark on your newfound hobby with these two cheeses? They're found everywhere, and despite their ubiquity, are world-class cheeses that even the most insufferable cheese snob would respect and enjoy.
  2. You have two weeks left to see this one-room exhibit containing several works by Doménikos Theotokí³poulos, better known as "El Greco." My advice is to spend as much time looking at the 11 paintings (7 by Theotokí³poulos) as you can tolerate, and then go downstairs to the Lecture Hall (near the furniture exhibit), and watch the looping, thirty-minute film about the life of El Greco. Or, for a slightly different experience, do the two in reverse, but either way, seeing the film is a must. This great painter, a relative unknown compared to Velazquez, has had an extraordinary influence on Modern Art - artists from Cézanne to Picasso revered him (as well as taking his works, and putting their own spin on them). Go spend an hour in the gallery enjoying this extremely accessible and manageable exhibit - you'll really appreciate it, and you'll never look at Blue the same way again. The three large paintings in particular will stay with you long after you've gone home - Saint Martin, Madonna and Child (with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes), and Laocoön (speakers on - you can't be expected to know the pronunciation of this four-syllable name even though you may recognize the world-famous sculpture, "The Laocoön Group," unearthed in Rome in 1506). One criticism I have is that the signage (two signs outside the room, three smaller signs inside the room, and the captions themselves) don't make it easy to discern which 7 (out of the 11) works were executed by Theotokí³poulos, and exactly what the other 4 works are - you can figure it out, but something this small should be nearly instantaneous to glean. The film will walk you through his life in Crete, Venice, Rome, and Toledo, making it quite clear how he progressed. You'll emerge from the gallery a better person than when you entered it.
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