If you love cheese, you’ve likely come across the sweet, tangy condiment called membrillo. Membrillo is the Spanish word for the quince fruit and is commonly used to refer to the sweet quince paste also known as cotognata in Italian and marmelada in Portuguese. Even though recipes vary, quince and sugar — cooked to a thick consistency, molded and cooled — are the primary ingredients. The resulting quince paste is a traditional accompaniment to many cheeses including the famous Manchego.
During our spring buying trip to Portugal, Tim and I visited a small but productive marmelada factory. Here we saw quince fruit being cooked down with cane sugar into a thick paste. The marmelada produced here was smooth, rich and tasty, a deep orange-brown with a tangy, caramelized quince flavor.
Later that same day we had the opportunity to try a different quince paste made by Quinta do Coro, an artisanal producer on a much smaller scale. This quince paste, which we recently began carrying at Formaggio Kitchen, was a revelation. While the factory-made marmelada was the typical dark orange-brown, the artisanal version was a near-translucent apricot color with a texture that was coarser and more fruit like than any we’ve had. Instead of the familiar caramelized, cooked flavor, this marmelada tasted of pure fruit, bright and fresh.
We were also captivated by their candied quince, which was cut into cubes like large pâtes de fruits. It wasn’t too sweet, and the flavor of the quince came through in every bite.
Julie Cappellano is the General Manager and wine buyer at Formaggio Kitchen South End, Boston.