Membrillo is great for hard cheese. Traditionally paired with manchego in Spain, it's wonderful with other rich sheep milk cheeses, like those from the French side of the Basque region, like Ossau Iraty or Petite Basque, or even a salty, smoky one like Idiazabal, from the Spanish side of the Basque region. But across the board, an aged sheep milk cheese is a delicious way to go.
You'll typically find membrillo in square slabs or blocks. Sliced into pieces, it makes for a neat presentation atop a cracker or directly on a wedge of cheese. But I opted not to smooth it into a square dish and even forwent the process of letting it set entirely. I served it the day I made it, piled into a little dish, and let people do the spreading themselves.
I prefer it this way, actually. It's more of a jam or chutney, and presents more homey and less geometric. You can easily spread it into a dish after you make it and invert it for slicing, or transfer it to a jar and serve it like a jam. Either way, expect a wonderfully apple-pear condiment that'll compliment your cheeses in the evening, and your toast in the morning.
I like a chunkier texture. If you like a smoother paste, you can strain it after cooking.
3 1/2 pounds quince, washed, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
2 3/4 cups sugar
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste
In a large pot, combine quince and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer. Cook until quince is very tender, about 25 minutes.
Strain, reserving 3/4 cup liquid. Return to pot with reserved liquid, sugar, and lemon juice. Boil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until reduced and very thick, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Taste, and add more lemon if you'd like. The color should be a rich raspberry, quite darker and more red than the initial color of the boiled quince. (See photo for indication of correct color.)
If a smooth texture is desired, strain through a fine-meshed sieve. Transfer to a container, cool, cover, and transfer to refrigerator until ready to use. Alternatively, you can transfer to a buttered baking dish and chill in the refrigerator. Invert and slice into pieces for serving.
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop. Until recently she was a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show. She is currently a freelance food stylist and private chef in New York City.
(Images: Nora Singley