Fairy-tale stuff

There is something old-fashioned almost mythical about the fruit known as the golden apple.

Quinces were sacred to Aphrodite. The goddess of love, the most seductive and beautiful of all the Greek goddesses, was always holding a quince.

The Greek law-maker Solon decreed that quinces should be the food served to every newly married couple on their wedding night. Chaucer included them in his tales of courtly love. Slices of quince were even on the menu at the wedding breakfast of the Owl and the Pussycat. The quince was important enough that Gaia, Earth herself, made a gift of a quince tree to Hera upon her marriage to Zeus.

But Aphrodite was always a mischief-maker, and the quince tree too has a double-edged reputation. The tree of golden apples so zealously guarded by the Hesperides, the Daughters of Evening, goddesses of sunsets, may well have been a quince. It was fruit from this tree, thrown under her feet, that caused Atalanta – who had sworn never to marry anybody who could not out-run her – to lose her race against Hippomenes. So distracted was Atalanta with magical allure of the golden quince that she stooped to pick them up and lost the race to her suitor. And it was probably a quince, not an apple, that Paris awarded to Aphrodite, starting the chain of events that led to the Trojan War.

It all started with Eris, the goddess of strife, discord and hatred who was excluded from the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. Without an invitation, she was refused. She was so angry that she inscribed a golden quince with the words to the fairest and threw it into the gathering. Three goddesses claimed it and Paris, a Trojan prince, was asked to award the quince to its rightful recipient. Aphrodite was his choice. They say this act is what began the Trojan War.

Even the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil with which Satan tempted Eve is thought now to have been a quince. Without quinces, we might all still be in Paradise.

You can understand the appeal.

The sweet red paste known to us as dulce de membrillo is known as quince paste. You buy it in blocks and for us in Argentina, it is the stuff of dreams too. Most remarkably in that Italian crostata which we wrongly call pastafrola (pastafrola is, technically, just the sweet pastry without the filling) but for us it is the whole combo. We wouldn’t conceive a pastafrola without membrillo. Unless it has, perhaps, a sweet potato filling. (I’m not kidding).

But today I thought I would share a much humbler dessert, what we call queso y dulce. It couldn’t be simpler but the combination is genius, especially if you pair membrillo with a much stronger cheese than the one in the photo, like, for example a mature Cheddar or a Manchego cheese. The saltiness of the cheese combined with the sweetness of the quince is superb. Pair it on crostini, drizzle with olive oil and you’ve got a nice little hors d’oeuvre.


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