Ever since I started making quince jelly people have been telling me about membrillo, a quince paste that is practically the national snack of Spain when paired with Manchego, sheep’s milk cheese. Nicky and Melissa have written about membrillo, enough to inspire me to go to Whole Foods and buy some to try for myself. Oh my gosh. If you have never tried membrillo with Manchego, get yourself to the nearest Whole Foods or other specialty market and buy some. If I lived in Spain I would eat this every day. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll see what all the fuss is about, and you may even be motivated to try your hand at making some, which is exactly what happened to me.
Not familiar with quince? It’s a hard fruit that looks sort of like a cross between an apple and a pear. Most varieties you can’t eat raw, only cooked. They cook up pink and have a wonderful sweet floral aroma. Like apples and pears, they’re in season during the fall.
- 4 pounds quince, washed, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
- 1 vanilla pod, split
- 2 strips (1/2 inch by 2 inches each) of lemon peel (only the yellow peel, no white pith)
- 3 Tbsp lemon juice
- About 4 cups of granulated sugar, exact amount will be determined during cooking
1 Place quince pieces in a large saucepan (6-8 quarts) and cover with water. Add the vanilla pod and lemon peel and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook until the quince pieces are fork tender (30-40 minutes).
2 Strain the water from the quince pieces. Discard the vanilla pod but keep the lemon peel with the quince. Purée the quince pieces in a food processor, blender, or by using a food mill. Measure the quince purée. Whatever amount of quince purée you have, that's how much sugar you will need. So if you have 4 cups of purée, you'll need 4 cups of sugar. Return the quince purée to the large pan. Heat to medium-low. Add the sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the lemon juice.
3 Continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the quince paste is very thick and has a deep orange pink color.
4 Preheat oven to a low 125°F (52°C). Line a 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper (do not use wax paper, it will melt!). Grease the parchment paper with a thin coating of butter. Pour the cooked quince paste into the parchment paper-lined baking pan. Smooth out the top of the paste so it is even. Place in the oven for about an hour to help it dry. Remove from oven and let cool.
To serve, cut into squares or wedges and present with Manchego cheese. To eat, take a small slice of the membrillo and spread it on top of a slice of the cheese. Store by wrapping in foil or plastic wrap, an keeping in the refrigerator.
Note: The first time I made this the top part set, but the bottom had not. To fix, I emptied the quince paste into a large pyrex bowl and put in the microwave. I cooked it on high in 5 minute increments for 20 minutes. During the last minute one of the edges started to caramelize and turn brown. This you don't want to have happen, as the caramelized parts destroy the flavor, but in this case it was a good indication that the rest of the quince paste was ready. I discarded the browned parts and returned the rest to a newly lined baking dish. Back into the oven for an hour and it was done to perfection.