In English, “ate” is the past tense of “eat”, but in Mexico, it is the name of one of its most traditional sweets (pronounced “ah-teh”); it is a very thick jelly, made with any meaty fruit containing pectine, such as apples, pears, guavas or – the original flavour – quince (Cydonia oblonga, called membrillo in Spanish). The recipe with quince was brought to Mexico from Spain, where it is known as dulce de membrillo – quince sweet. Quince jelly was enjoyed since ancient times in Greece and the Roman empire, spreading to the New World during European colonization. In addition to dulce de membrillo in Spain, other names for this sweet around the world are: pasta de membrillo, quince paste, quince cheese, etc.; in Mexico, it became known as membrillate, and later on, when other fruits were used instead of quince, the resulting jelly would be called, for example, guayabate (from guava – guayaba), manzanate (from apple – manzana) and then simply “ate” as a generic name.
Making ate at home is easy, but time consuming; it consists basically of taking equal parts of fruit pulp and sugar, and cook them together for a couple of hours, while stirring in a timely manner to avoid burning, until the initially inane mix thickens to reach an almost solid consistency; the paste is placed in moulds, then left to cool down and gel into a solid block that may be taken out of the mould and sliced:
Quince lost favour in the USA and Canada once apples were introduced, but in Latin America it continues to be a popular fruit and choice for this sweet. Here in Canada, I found packaged guava paste from Brazil, in the international section at the supermarket:
Combining this fruit paste (ate) with a soft to medium cheese, such as mozzarella (photo at the top of the post, and below), friulano or manchego, and serving together, cut into cubes or sliced and stacked, makes a simple, yet surprisingly exquisite, dessert or appetizer:
In Mexico, this dessert is known as ate con queso – fruit paste with cheese, but in other Latin American countries it might have more intriguing names, such as postre vigilante in Argentina, Martín Fierro in Uruguay, and Romeu e Julieta in Brazil.
I have mentioned in other occasions that Mexican manchego cheese is different from the version from La Mancha, the famous region in Spain. In general terms, Mexican manchego is a soft cheese, made from cow’s milk and closer to the Italian friulano (photo below, left), while Spanish manchego is made from unpasteurized sheep’s milk and has a more compact texture, after being aged for up to two years (photo below, right):
From a closer look of their cross sections (photo below) it is easy to see that these two cheeses are very different and generally not interchangeable, but in this particular case, they are equally acceptable whether paired with ate (any flavour) in Mexico, or with dulce de membrillo in Spain.