I have been going slightly quince crazy over the last few weeks. I had a surreptitious, under-the-counter deal with the greengrocer for a 4kg crate of quinces. Not that I really wanted that many, but they seem to only come in such a quantity, and she was confident that, were I to only take half, the rest wouldn’t sell. No one really knows what to do with the cumbersome fruits that look like a cross between an apple and a pear on steroids. You can’t eat them raw, and I would be dubious to their appeal prepared in any way other than in a jelly or a paste.
This is not actually cheese. It is nothing like cheese. Hence the need for the inverted commas in the title- and my insistence on using air quotes whenever I tell people about it. It’s actually a paste made out of quinces and sugar, which sets firm enough to hold its shape. You eat it with cheese- so why it’s also known as a ‘cheese’ is slightly baffling. The Spanish name is membrillo, which doesn’t enlighten us any more, unless you’re Spanish.
Quinces have a lovely autumnal taste to them, a bit like a sweet pear. This ‘cheese’ is lovely sliced in very thin slivers as part of a cheeseboard, and is particularly good with hard goats’ cheese. It is also nice, as I discovered having surplus, on toast, balanced on top of some crunchy peanut butter. You’ll need some sort of mould for the paste – I used silicone cupcake cases, and the jelly popped satisfyingly out of them when it was set. But any sort of ramekins or small dishes would work well too.
Makes about 1 litre – enough to fill 12 silicone cupcake cases
(Recipe adapted from Salt, Sugar, Smoke by Diana Henry)
about 450g granulated sugar
about 450g jam sugar (with added pectin)
sunflower oil (to grease the moulds)
Wash the quinces, and remove the little black bit at the base. Chop them roughly and put in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until completely soft and pulpy, mashing the fruit occasionally to help break it up. This will take about an hour. Push the pulp through a nylon sieve into a bowl. When you have sieved it all, measure it. For every 450ml of pulp you’ll need 450g sugar (I use a mixture of half granulated and half jam sugar, to help get a firm set). Put the sieved pulp and the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring very gently to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 ½ hours until the mixture is really thick. You need it to be so thick that when you scrape a spoon across the bottom of the pan it leaves a clear channel before closing up again.
Brush the moulds with sunflower oil, and pour the mixture into the moulds (it’s easier if you put it in a jug first, rather than trying to pour directly from the pan. Leave the cheese to set (it will take about an hour), then unmould and wrap in greaseproof paper, then tie with string. Tightly wrapped, it will keep for several months, and there is no need to refridgerate it.