Fragrant quinces are hard and astringent when raw, but once cooked, the fruits soften into a sweet, floral accompaniment to roasted meat and cheese. They also star in preserves; here, quinces are cooked down into a concentrated paste and paired with sharp Spanish Manchego.
Homemade Quince Paste with Manchego Cheese
2 lb. (1 kg.) quinces
3 1/2-4 cups (1 3/4-2 lb./875 g.-1 kg.) sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Block of Manchego cheese, shaved
Crackers for serving
Peel each quince, cut in half, and remove the core and seeds. Place the peels, cores and seeds in a square of cheesecloth, bring the corners together, and tie securely with kitchen string.
Slice the quinces and place in a heavy nonreactive pot. Add water to cover and the cheesecloth pouch. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and cook slowly, uncovered, until the fruit is tender, 20-40 minutes. You may want to stop the cooking a few times, for 1-2 hours, to let the quinces rest and deepen their color. Add more water if the mixture begins to dry out.
Remove the cheesecloth pouch and discard. Mash the quinces with a potato masher or puree in a food processor. In a clean saucepan, combine the mashed quinces, the cooking liquid, 3 1/2 cups (1 3/4 lb./875 g.) of the sugar, and the cinnamon. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until thick, about 20 minutes. Taste and add more sugar if the paste seems too tart.
Ladle into hot, sterilized canning jars to within 1/4 inch (6 mm.) of the rims. Wipe the rims clean, cover with sterilized canning lids, and seal tightly. Process the jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Check the seals, label the jars, and store in a cool pantry for up to 1 year. (Jars that do not form a good seal should be refrigerated and used within 1 month.)
To serve, spread quince paste on top of each cheese slice or cracker. Serve right away. Serves 10-12.