When can babies eat manchego cheese?
Manchego cheese is best introduced after baby’s first birthday due to moderate sodium levels. However, a small taste of pasteurized manchego here and there before then is fine.
In general, the best cheeses for babies younger than 12 months old are pasteurized and low in sodium, including emmentaler cheese, fresh goat cheese, labneh, mascarpone cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese, paneer, fresh ricotta cheese, and swiss cheese.
Where does manchego cheese come from?
Manchego originated in the La Mancha region of Spain, an area named for its arid climate. There the milk of Manchega sheep is heated to form curds that are skimmed and molded into cylindrical shapes. Before the process was industrialized, cheese makers used molds made from braided esparto grass that created a zig-zag pattern called a pleita on the rind. Today, commercial producers achieve the same design by using plastic molds. Manchego ranges in curing time: fresco is aged for 2 weeks, semi-curado is aged at least 3 weeks and up to 4 months, curado ages for 3 to 6 months, and viejo or anejo ages for 1 year.
Is manchego cheese healthy for babies?
No. Manchego tends to be high in sodium, which is not healthy when consumed in excess.1 2 Manchego can be made with unpasteurized (raw) milk, which carries a higher risk of foodborne illness, although those aged for more than 60 days – like aged manchego – pose a lower risk.3 Read our cheese page for more information and consider the risk in the context of your individual child.
Nutritionally, manchego cheese has plenty of healthy saturated fats to support cell structure and protein to create new cells. It is also a great source of calcium to build strong bones and, although data is limited, sheep cheeses like manchego may contain higher levels of zinc compared to cheeses made from cow, goat, and buffalo milk.4 5 6
Can manchego cheese help baby poop?
Probably not. Aged cheeses, like aged manchego, are fermented and naturally contain certain beneficial bacteria, which may have a positive influence on the microbiome, but more research is needed.7 8 Note that pooping patterns can vary significantly from child to child. Be sure to talk to your pediatric healthcare provider if you have concerns about baby’s pooping and digestive function.
Is manchego cheese a common choking hazard for babies?
Yes. Cheese is a common choking hazard for babies and children.9 To reduce the risk, slice manchego very thinly and avoid serving cheese in cubes. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within arm’s reach of baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.
Is manchego cheese a common allergen?
In a sense, yes. Manchego is made from sheep’s milk, and while it is considered to be dairy, sheep’s milk is generally not recognized to be as common of an allergen as cow’s milk.10 That said, dairy products from ruminants such as sheep, goat, and buffalo may provoke similar allergic reactions as cow’s milk dairy products.11 12 If baby is allergic to dairy, know that it is an allergy that often disappears with time.13 Note: Aged cheeses generally contain histamines, which may cause rashes in children who are sensitive to them.14 15
While cow’s milk is recognized as a known trigger of food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES), it is recommended that babies with FPIES to cow’s milk also avoid the milk of other ruminants, such as sheep.16 FPIES is a delayed allergy to food protein which causes the sudden onset of repetitive vomiting and diarrhea to begin a few hours after ingestion. Left untreated, the reaction can result in significant dehydration. Thankfully, like other forms of milk allergy, FPIES which presents early in life is generally outgrown by the time the child has reached 3-5 years of age.17 While the exact rates of FPIES are unknown, it is believed to be an uncommon condition (although better recognition of the disease has led to increased reporting in recent years).18
Although it is not an allergy, lactose intolerance can result in gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea, after ingestion of dairy items containing lactose. For those with older children who are lactose intolerant (keep in mind this is uncommon for infants and toddlers), some good news: compared with milk and certain other dairy products, many cheeses may be better tolerated by those with lactose intolerance, particularly aged cheeses, which have lower lactose content.19 Note that if your child is lactose-intolerant, it’s important to find calcium-rich foods to consume regularly to ensure a balanced diet and support bone health. Search for naturally low-lactose cheeses and dairy products labeled “lactose-free.”
If you suspect baby may be allergic to dairy products, consult an allergist before introducing dairy products like cheese. Based on baby’s risk factors and history, your allergist may recommend allergy testing, or may instead advise dairy introduction under medical supervision in the office. If the risk is low, you may be advised to go ahead and introduce dairy in the home setting. As with all common allergens, start by serving a small quantity on its own for the first few servings, and if there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.
How do your introduce manchego cheese to babies with baby-led weaning?
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience. Your child is an individual and may have needs or considerations beyond generally accepted practices. In determining the recommendations for size and shape of foods, we use the best available scientific information regarding gross, fine, and oral motor development to minimize choking risk. The preparation suggestions we offer are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for child-specific, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional or provider. It is impossible to fully eliminate all risk of a baby or child choking on any liquid, puree, or food. We advise you to follow all safety protocols we suggest to create a safe eating environment and to make educated choices for your child regarding their specific needs. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
6 to 12 months old: Hold off on serving manchego regularly, although if you have dish with pasteurized manchego already prepared for yourself and you’d like to share a thin slice or some grated cheese with baby, it’s fine to do so. If you are serving cheese regularly, focus on those lower in sodium, such as emmentaler, fresh goat cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese, paneer, and swiss cheese.
12 to 18 months old: Thinly slice or grate pasteurized manchego cheese and serve either on its own or as part of a shared meal. Avoid serving manchego in cube shapes, as these present a high choking risk.
18 to 24 months old: Continue to serve pasteurized manchego in thin slices or melted atop other foods. You can also serve aged manchego in small, bite-sized pieces cut from a thin slice of cheese. Avoid serving cheese in cube shapes, as these present a high choking risk.
Learn more about how much sodium babies should have on our Sodium FAQ page.
Recipe: Artichoke Hearts with Grated Manchego
Yield: ½ c (120 ml)
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Age: 12 months+
- 2 oz (56 g) canned artichoke hearts (halved, quartered, or whole)
- ½ oz (14 g) manchego
- 1 almond (optional)
This recipe contains a common allergen: dairy (manchego) and tree nut (almond). Only serve to a child after these allergens have been safely introduced.
- Open the can of artichoke hearts. Set aside 2 oz (48 g) and store the rest for another use.
- Rinse the artichokes. Pat dry.
- Cut the artichokes lengthwise into slices or into bite size pieces.
- Grate the manchego. Sprinkle the cheese on top.
- If you’d like, finely grind one almond and sprinkle a pinch or two on top of the artichokes. If you are introducing almonds for the first few times, start with a scant amount: about ¼ tsp (½ g). If the child shows no signs of an allergic reaction, offer more finely ground-up almonds.
Serve the Artichokes
- Offer the artichokes to your toddler and let the child self-feed.
- If you like, serve the artichokes with a small bowl of grated manchego on the side so the child can taste the cheese on its own.
- To encourage the use of utensils, preload an age-appropriate fork with a bite-sized piece of artichoke, then place the utensil next to the food for the child to pick up.
To Store: Artichoke Hearts with Grated Manchego keep in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 3 days. If you have leftover artichokes from a can, transfer into an air-tight glass or plastic container before storing in the refrigerator. Tightly wrap your block of manchego to store in the refrigerator for 1 week.
V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP. Board-Certified Pediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist
C. Aycinena Marcos, MS, RD. Registered Dietitian and Public Health/Clinical Nutritionist
K. Tatiana Maldonado, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS, CLEC. Pediatric Feeding Therapist
K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT. Pediatric Feeding Therapist
Dr. S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)
Dr. R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist
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- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. DOI: 10.17226/25353. Retrieved August 5, 2022
- U. S. Food & Drug Administration. Dangers of raw milk. Retrieved August 5, 2022
- Paszczyk, B., & Łuczyńska, J. (2020). The Comparison of Fatty Acid Composition and Lipid Quality Indices in Hard Cow, Sheep, and Goat Cheeses. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 9(11), 1667. DOI: 10.3390/foods9111667. Retrieved August 5, 2022.
- Manzi, P., Di Costanzo, M. G., & Ritota, M. (2021). Content and Nutritional Evaluation of Zinc in PDO and Traditional Italian Cheeses. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 26(20), 6300. DOI: 10.3390/molecules26206300. Retrieved August 5, 2022.
- Manuelian CL, Currò S, Penasa M, Cassandro M, De Marchi M. Characterization of major and trace minerals, fatty acid composition, and cholesterol content of Protected Designation of Origin cheeses. J Dairy Sci. 2017 May;100(5):3384-3395. doi: 10.3168/jds.2016-12059. Retrieved August 5, 2022.
- González, S., Fernández-Navarro, T., Arboleya, S., de Los Reyes-Gavilán, C. G., Salazar, N., & Gueimonde, M. (2019). Fermented Dairy Foods: Impact on Intestinal Microbiota and Health-Linked Biomarkers. Frontiers in microbiology, 10, 1046. DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.01046. Retrieved August 5, 2022.
- Balthazar, C., Pimentel, T., Ferrão, L., Almada, C., Santillo, A., Albenzio, M., Mollakhalili, N., Mortazavian, A., Nascimento, J., Silva, M., Freitas, M., Sant’Ana, A., Granato, D. and Cruz, A. (2017), Sheep Milk: Physicochemical Characteristics and Relevance for Functional Food Development. COMPREHENSIVE REVIEWS IN FOOD SCIENCE AND FOOD SAFETY, 16: 247-262. DOI: 10.1111/1541-4337.12250. Retrieved August 5, 2022
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- Bernard, H., Hazebrouck, S., Gaiani, N., Adel-Patient, K. (2021). Allergen risk assessment for specific allergy to small ruminant’s milk: Development of sensitive immunoassays to detect goat’s and sheep’s milk contaminations in dairy food matrices. Frontiers in Allergy. DOI: 10.3389/falgy.2021.733875. Retrieved August 5, 2022
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