Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Plum Cheese, Membrillo, and other fruit pastes


Fruit cheese is the dried paste of various fruits, mixed with sugar, and perhaps some spice or flavoring,
and cooked down until it stands on its own. Fruit cheese is very good with cheese and crackers; I have
made it with Quince, known as Membrillo in Spanish or Pate de Coings in French and, just recently with plums.

I have made membrillo before, as I had a nice harvest of quinces one year. During cooking, the quince
took on a beautiful deep ruby color and had the flavor of vanilla combined with the unique taste of the
quince. It took forever to cook down, though, and I had the same experience with the Plum Cheese I made
the other day. These fruit cheese are jams that are reduced to a stiff paste that will set up when cooled. They may also require a little drying treatment in a very low oven.

I developed an interest in making plum cheese while watching the TV show, " Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie."
The episode was about food bloggers. Pim (Chez Pim) visited a lady who was making Plum Cheese
commercially. The footage showed the cheeses being turned out of decorative molds, all dark and
glistening. Looked good, so I decided to try it at home. After googling "Plum cheese," I decide to try a
variation on a recipe by Natalia Schamroth from an old issue of Bon Appetit.

She suggests using plums that are not quite ripe, as they contain more pectin which helps the cheese
solidify. She suggests that this will shorten the cooking time and ensure that the plums have a fresh,
not overcooked, flavor. I used a combination of underripe and ripe plums which is what I had; perhaps
this is why the cooking time was so long.

Fruit cheese differs from fruit butters in that the structure of the preparation is almost solid when
done. Fruit butters need to be cooked down only until no free liquid is visible and the surface is creamy.  Other fruit cheeses and butters can be made by following these directions and substituting in seasoning and flavors that you find compatable.

Plum Cheese or Paste


2 lbs. plums, halved
3/4 cup water
white sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Place the plums, stones and water in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Simmer, covered with a lid, until just
softened. Pass the plums through a strainer or sieve (discard stones) and return to the saucepan. Weigh
the pulp and add to it an equal quantity of sugar.

Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved then add the lemon juice. Turn up to a brisk simmer,
stirring occasionally, until thickened. This process will take between 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on
the pectin content of the fruit. Test the plum paste as you would jam; a small amount on a saucer should
form a skin and thicken quite quickly after 1-2 minutes in the refrigerator.

Pour the paste into a rectangular loaf tin lined with baking paper and leave to set. Store airtight in the
refrigerator or in a cool dark place until ready to use.  The mixture can also be poured into hot, hot, dry sterilized jars as when making jam. Wipe the jars or moulds clean and cover immediately whilst still hot.
Leave to cool and label with contents and date made.

Fruit cheeses can be turned out in one piece and cut with a knife and served with cheese and crackers or,
cut into small pieces, as a sweetmeat. They are also useful as a condiment to cold meat or poultry.
Cheeses can be stored for up to 4 months and are often better if left to mature for 2 months before using

My biggest problem was figuring out when it was done. I cooked and cooked it down, albeit on a low flame
so that I didn't have to stir often; it took ages but it did set up in the refrigerator. Many of the
recipes I read said that the cheese was done when a spoon drawn across the pan leaves a clean path. There
is a fine line between when this preparation is done and when it is scorched. I pulled mine when it set
up in the refrigerator, but before I could draw a spoon through it and have it leave a clean line. Mine
came out a little on the soft side, but I thought I could smell a scorch, so I pulled it. I didn't finish
it until late in the evening, and I was too tired to puzzle out the mold things, so I poured/spread it
into little loaf pans lined with parchment paper and refrigerated them. If I had a pilot light in my
over, I would have put them in there to "dry" overnight.

It's the two days later now, and I have kept the plum cheese out to dry during the day in a pan on oiled
plastic wrap, covered loosely with more plastic; I refrigerate overnight. They are now firm enough to
slice. Hooray!
Recommendations for Fruit cheese and cheese combinations include Brie or Pont L'Eveque for the Plum Cheese and a nice Spanish Manchego with the Quince Membrillo. I think most favorites will work; if you happen have the blues--Stilton, Roquefort, or Cambazola, I would try them,too. We had a Jarlsberg with the Plum cheese on Cousteaux Bakery Multigrain Bread. Fantastic!

Here's a recipe for the beautiful ruby Quince Paste or Membrillo for the lucky ones who have them.

Quince Paste or Membrillo Recipe


4 pounds quince, washed, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
1 vanilla pod, split
2 strips (1/2 inch by 2 inches each) of lemon peel (only the yellow peel, no white pith)
3 Tbsp lemon juice
About 4 cups of granulated sugar, exact amount will be determined during cooking

Place quince pieces in a large saucepan (6-8 quarts) and cover with water. Add the vanilla pod and lemon
peel and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook until the quince pieces are fork tender
(30-40 minutes).

Strain the water from the quince pieces. Discard the vanilla pod but keep the lemon peel with the quince.
Purée the quince pieces in a food processor, blender, or by using a food mill. Measure the quince purée.
and add an equal amount, cup for cup, of sugar. Return the quince purée to the large pan. Heat to medium-
low. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the lemon juice.

Continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the quince paste is very
thick and has a deep orange pink color.
Preheat oven to a low 125°F (52°C). Line a 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper (do not use wax paper, it
will melt!). Grease the parchment paper with a thin coating of butter or oil. Pour the cooked quince paste
into the parchment paper-lined baking pan. Smooth out the top of the paste so it is even. Place in the
oven for about an hour to help it dry. Remove from oven and let cool. Store by wrapping in foil or plastic wrap, an keeping in the refrigerator.



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