What to Eat in France: Cotignac ou Pâte de Coings, or Quince Cheese or Paste
Before having the best Cotignac sent from Orléans, because you were yearning for the tastes of your childhood…Avant de faire venir d’Orléans le meilleur cotignac, puisque vous vouliez redevenir enfant et goûter au cotignac…—Balzac, Lettres à l’Étrangère
Quince is my husband’s favorite word. Annoying situations or people are quinces in his lexicon. But quinces can be most agreeable, as in the case of quince paste, a cherished confection in France. Although the fruit must be cooked to be digestible, rather like annoying situations have to be cogitated over to be digested, it is worth the effort. They are, after all, a member of the Rosaceae family, like apples and pears.
Quince paste, often called quince cheese or in Spanish membrillo, is not specific to France. In fact, it dates as far back as the Ancient Greeks, who made a similar preparation using honey instead of sugar.
Cotignac d’Orléans, quince cheese from the region of Orléans, has a special place in the history of France. In the Middle Ages, a pastry chef from the village of Cotignac in the region of Var in the southeast set up shop in Orléans. He made quince cheese, which came to be known as Cotignac, and which became a favorite of King François I. French kings continued the tradition, and Louis XIV and XV offered Cotignac to ambassadors and other important guests.
There are also historical references to a Cotignac from Mâcon.
How is Cotignac different from other quince cheese? It’s not, really. The name just stuck because of its place in history.
Quince, 2/3 in weight
Caster sugar, 1/3 in weight
Caster sugar for sprinkling top of cheese
Large stewpot or jam pan
- Cut fruit into quarters.
- Remove cores and seeds and set aside.
- Keep seeds and tie them into a cheesecloth bag along with the flesh from the quince.
- Put cheesecloth into a large a stewpan or jam pot and add water, just enough to cover and no more.
- Cook over medium heat until flesh is soft and it is possible to pull it apart with a fork.
- Squeeze the juice from the cheesecloth bag and set it aside.
- Weigh the juice.
- Add one third its weight in sugar.
- Carefully mix and pour back into a stewpan or jam pot.
- Cook again, stirring constantly, until the cheese/paste starts to get dense and no longer sticks to the sides of the pan or until a drop congeals when dropped onto a cold, hard surface. This should take 5-10 minutes, depending on the water content of the fruit.
- Spread this thickened mixture onto a greased baking dish so that it is about 3/4″ thick.
- Sprinkle with caster sugar.
- Leave it to dry for 4 hours.
- Cut into 2″ squares.
- Serve with sharp cheese, fatty meats, especially game, or as dessert.
- Quince cheese keeps for about a month. It should be stored in an airtight tin.
Note: The Wikipedia entry for Cotignac states that it is quince jelly, which is unfortunately incorrect.