A delicious thick sweet paste that can be cut into slices, membrillo or quince cheese adds a lovely hint of sweetness and floral flavours when paired with strongly flavoured, salty cheeses. This membrillo recipe is easy to make and a great way to use a glut of quince.
Membrillo or quince cheese
Membrillo is a thick paste, made from quince pulp, sugar and lemon juice. Strongly associated with Iberia, it has a history dating back to ancient times and is also part of the food culture of Italy, France, central Europe and South America.
The most common use is as an accompaniment to cheese, particularly strongly flavoured, salty cheeses such as manchego. It’s especially popular in Spain. It has a delicious floral, sweet flavour, unsurprisingly similar to quince jelly.
Interestingly, the name for membrillo in Portuguese is marmelada. The earliest marmalades in England were made with quinces and these recipes may have been much more like membrillo than our modern citrus jellies.
What are quinces?
A cousin to apples and pears, the quince is a fragrant golden orchard fruit that originated in Central Asia. A favourite in Ancient Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome, it soon spread across Europe and the first records in England come from the 12th century. By the late 1500s, it was recorded as an ingredient for sweets and jellies as well as medicinal syrups.
The fruit is covered in fine hairs before it ripens from green to yellow in autumn. Most varieties remain too hard and tart to eat raw, unless bletted (stored in cool conditions until the flesh starts to break down).
The most common use is to make quince jelly and quince cheese, which is more widely known by the Spanish name, membrillo.
Quinces can also be stewed and make a delicious topping to breakfast cereal, porridge or a tasty addition to a fruity dessert.
Why make quince cheese
- It’s a great way to use quinces if you’re lucky enough to have access to a quince tree.
- A great accompaniment to cheese.
- Makes a delicious foodie Christmas gift.
- Quinces – Unless you have a tree (or know someone who does) you probably need to look for a good greengrocer rather than a supermarket to find them.
If you do have access to a tree, store the quinces for about six weeks in a cool place before you make this membrillo recipe. Lay them out so that they do not touch each other while they mature. This will avoid a bad fruit spoiling the batch.
The recipe for quince cheese or membrillo works by matching the quantity of sugar to the cooked weight of quince, so it doesn’t matter whether you have just a few or a huge glut.
- Sugar – plain granulated. No need for anything fancy or jam sugar here.
- Lemon juice – freshly squeezed
How to make membrillo – step by step
Before you start, read my step-by-step instructions, with photos, hints and tips so you can make this perfectly every time.
Scroll down for the recipe card with quantities and more tips at the bottom of the page.
Step One – Peel and core the quinces, and chop into 2.5 cm / 1” cubes. Discard any discoloured or rotten part of the fruit.
Quinces, even when ripe, are a very hard fruit. Take great care when cutting out the cores. Use a very sharp knife, and make sure that your hand is behind the edge.
Step Two – Add the fruit to a saucepan and just cover with water. Add a lid, and bring to the boil. Cook the quinces until soft. Depending on ripeness, this might take only a few minutes.
With this batch, the quinces were soft as soon as the water was boiling, but you might need to cook them for slightly longer.
Step Three – Drain the fruit. Mash it with a potato masher. Then pass it through a sieve. This makes a really smooth membrillo, and ensures that you won’t find any pips or skin in the final product.
This is going to take some time so put some music on and prepare for an arm workout!
At this stage you can freeze the pulp and make the membrillo at a later stage.
Step Four – Weigh the fruit pulp, and add it back to the saucepan. Add an equal weight of sugar together with the lemon juice. Heat over a low heat, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar.
It looks like there is far too much sugar – there isn’t, so don’t worry.
Step Five – Turn the heat up to medium to reduce the mixture to a thick paste. The membrillo must be stirred constantly, so that it doesn’t burn. Take care to constantly scrape the side and the bottom of the pan.
Helen’s Top Tip
The paste will spit as it boils – there is no getting around this. As it is a sticky sugar mixture, it can burn if it lands on your skin. Make sure your sleeves are rolled down, and ideally, wear a glove when stirring.
Step Six – When the paste has thickened to such an extent that it doesn’t run back together for a couple of seconds with the spoon is drawn across the bottom of the saucepan, it’s ready. Take it off the heat.
It will take some time to reach this stage – it can take up to an hour, depending on how much you are making. This can’t be rushed, as you don’t want to burn it.
Step Seven – Lightly oil flat trays and line with cling film (I use cake release spray). Transfer the membrillo to the trays, press flat and allow to cool.
If the membrillo is soft, leave uncovered in the fridge so it firms up.
Serve as part of a cheese platter. The membrillo goes especially well with Manchego cheese.
Add a thin layer to the base of a cheese flan.
Use as a filling for a sweet tart, South American style. Make it like a jam tart, with a pastry lattice topping for authentic style.
- Add a little rosewater.
- Make medlar cheese in the same way if you don’t want to make medlar jelly.
How to store membrillo
Membrillo does not keep out of the fridge. Store in the fridge in airtight boxes; it is good for a good few months.
Yes. Just like jam, the jellied effect comes from sugar and pectin. This means membrillo is suitable for both vegetarians and vegans.
Yes, it doesn’t keep so well if you don’t chill it. You might want to take some out of the fridge and bring it up to room temperature to serve, however.
You absolutely can but you don’t need to. I would only do this if I needed the fridge space.
What else can I make with quinces?
- Quince jelly – the classic
- Stewed quince and apple.
- Add a quince to apple recipes such as apple crumble.
- 1 kg peeled and cored quince (yields 600 g fruit pulp)
- 600 g granulated white sugar
- Peel and core the quinces, and chop into 2.5 cm / 1” cubes. Discard any discoloured or rotten part of the fruit.1 kg peeled and cored quince
- Add the fruit to a saucepan and just cover with water. Add a lid, and bring to the boil. Cook the quinces until soft. This may happen in a minute or two or take ten minutes, depending on ripeness.
- Drain the fruit. Mash it with a potato masher. Then pass it through a sieve.
- Weigh the fruit pulp, and add it back to the saucepan. Add an equal weight of sugar together with the lemon juice.600 g granulated white sugar
- Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar.
- Turn the heat up to medium to reduce the mixture to a thick paste. Stir constantly to avoid burning.
- When you can draw a spoon through the membrillo and the furrow does not fill back immediately, the membrillo is ready. Take it off the heat.
- Lightly oil flat trays and line with cling film. Transfer the membrillo to the trays, press flat and allow to cool. Then move to the fridge to firm up.