I’d never really thought much about quinces until I got interested in cheese and then it seemed I couldn’t move for falling over a sticky chunk of membrillo. I was desperate to try and make some last year but never managed to track down the elusive quince. When they came back into season this year I searched high and low but there wasn’t a quince to be found anywhere in southwest London. Finally, I gave up and decided to make a version with plums instead but just as I hauled my shopping bag of fruit onto the table an email pinged in from Linda at Mrs Portly’s Kitchen, who was in London with some Suffolk quinces in need of a home. A mad dash across London later and I was the proud owner of half a dozen beautiful golden quinces (many thanks, Linda!)
The quinces were lovely and smelt strongly of what I thought was pineapple and Linda thought was more like mango. I spent the next day sniffing them and forcing unsuspecting visitors to do likewise. They seemed a remarkably exotic fruit to be growing in a British garden. At the risk of getting all food-porny, they are an undeniably sensuous fruit, all perfumed and big-bottomed.
Apparently they were imported to the Britons by King Edgar in c.950 and would have once been a common fruit. It may be all about the membrillo now but as far back as medieval times we islanders were making stiff pastes of quince known as charedequynce – and apparently cheese-and-quince dumplings too which I’ve got lined up for the blog this time next year. It’s a bit sad that these days I could have bought everything from passion fruit to papayas imported from all over the world but couldn’t get a native, seasonal quince to save my life.
Charedequynce eventually became known as quince cheese – and other fruit cheeses were popular too. There’s nothing actually cheesy about them apart from the fact that you can slice them – and, of course, they pair beautifully with cheese too, hence why they are allowed to feature on this blog.
Both plum and quince cheese are essentially made in the same way. For the plums, I washed them and simmered them in a little water until the flesh was soft and fell from the stones into a pulp. Similarly, I washed the quinces and rubbed off the slightly hairy coating and then chopped them up, skin, cores and all and boiled them until they were a soft pulp. I then pushed the pulp through a sieve into a bowl; you can also used a mouli and I’ve heard of people just sticking it all into a food processor but that wasn’t an option as one of my children has managed to dismantle mine and lose a vital part.
Weigh the resulting pulp and add the same amount in granulated sugar, plus a squeeze of lemon juice. Boil the mixture in a pan until it is thick and sticky; when you pull the spoon along the bottom of the pan and it leaves a trail, it’s ready. This may take as long as two or three hours depending on how wet the fruit is.
You can store the cheeses in jam jars but I wanted to be able to serve them and so finally found a use for the many small glass dessert pots that I’ve been hoarding for years; the ones with straight sides are ideal. Lightly grease the inside with a little olive oil to make the fruit cheese easier to remove and then put them in a low oven to sterilise whilst you wait for the pulp and sugar to thicken. Ladle the mixture into the jars and then pop them back into the low oven for a few hours – this will help to harden them up. If you want to remove them from the moulds, just prise it back from the glass with your fingers and then run a blunt knife around the sides.
Membrillo is traditionally paired with Manchego so I tried my quince cheese with a slab of Berkswell, a hard sheep’s cheese described by the cheesemonger as ‘fruity’. Interestingly, Berkswell is often said to have tasting notes of pineapple and it certainly tasted fantastic with the quince. Plum cheese is said to pair well with blue cheese and so I ate it with some Stichelton, which was also a great match. I also tried them both with some Lincolnshire Poacher because, well, it was an excuse to eat some more cheese.
I’d be really interested to know about other fruit cheeses people have made – and about the cheeses you’ve paired them with too.