Americandy: Sweet Land Of Liberty
5:11 am
Sun July 15, 2012

Don't Cry Over Burnt Milk In South Texas; Savor It

Originally published on Fri July 20, 2012 10:16 am

Stepping into a La Michoacana Meat Market in South Texas is a lot like crossing into Mexico — except you don't need a passport.

This grocery chain caters to the Mexican immigrant population, and it's filled with the sounds, ingredients, brands and products from south of the border.

My wife, Yvette Benavides, and I head straight to the candy.

There are different kinds of leche quemada in Mexico, but in South Texas, one of the most popular forms is known as cajeta, and it's made from goat milk.

Tan-colored and thick, cajeta leche quemada is not a brand, but a flavor — like caramel.

"Oh, I love cajeta," says Iliana de la Vega, a Latin cuisine specialist and chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America.

"What can I say? From the lollipops to anything. Homemade is obviously much, much better," she adds, "but the lollipops are delicious."

De la Vega says cajeta can be added to dishes to give them extra flavor and depth.

"You can make anything with it," she says. "You can use it in a flan. You can make it in ice cream — or even just a drizzle in the ice cream."

There's even a cappuccino-made cajeta, de la Vega adds.

You can pick up cajeta in almost any form. In addition to the lollipops, cajeta comes in jars, squeeze bottles, in little bricks, in pinwheels with pecans, smeared between wafers, and rolled up like taffy in plastic wrap.

All of the candies on offer at La Michoacana have a rustic, homemade look. We saw little point in picking up just one, so we bought a couple of everything for a taste test. You can taste bits of pecan in some of the treats, and the goat milk flavor really comes through in others.

I grew up in San Antonio, where leche quemada is part of the city's food culture. But for Yvette, who's from the border town of Laredo, cajeta is an even bigger deal. Our little taste test really took her back.

"My father really, really loved Mexican candy — in particular, leche quemada," Yvette says. "So he would, with a very large spoon, take the leche quemada from the jar. And he would put it on the tortilla and roll it up, and give it to one of us.

"We would roll up the end of the little tube of the tortilla, because it would drip everywhere — and we didn't want to lose a drop of it," Yvette reminisces.

Today, the taste for cajeta is spreading outside of South Texas and even beyond the Latino consumer. Maybe cajeta leche quemada is the next Mexican culinary export poised to enjoy the sweet taste of success.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now, another installment in our series on regional summer candy. Let's say you're craving a sweet in South Texas. Well, Mexican cuisine serves up a treat called leche quemada or burnt milk. Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies dives into this Mexican confection for us.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

DAVID MARTIN DAVIES, BYLINE: Stepping into a La Michoacana Meat Market is a lot like crossing into Mexico, except you don't need a passport. This grocery chain caters to the Mexican immigrant population and it's filled with the sounds, ingredients, brands and products from south of the border. My wife, Yvette Benavides, and I head to the candy.

YVETTE BENAVIDES: Hey.

DAVIES: What's that?

BENAVIDES: Look at these - leche quemada lollipops.

DAVIES: All right. Let's get those.

BENAVIDES: All right.

DAVIES: In Mexico, there are different types of leche quemada but in South Texas, leche quemada is cajeta - made from goats' milk. Tan-colored and thick, cajeta leche quemada is not a brand but a flavor like caramel.

ILIANA DE LA VEGA: Well, I love cajeta. What can I can I say? Just, you know, from the lollipops to anything. And homemade is, obviously, much, much better, but the lollipops are delicious.

DAVIES: Iliana de la Vega is a chef-instructor at The Culinary Institute of America, where she is a Latin cuisine specialist. She says cajeta can be added to dishes to give them extra flavor and depth.

VEGA: You can make anything with it. You can use it in a flan. You can make it in ice cream or even just a drizzle in the ice cream, as I said. There is also, like, cappuccinos with cajeta.

DAVIES: In addition to the lollipops, cajeta comes in jars, squeeze bottles, in little bricks, pinwheels with pecans, smeared between wafers and rolled up like taffy in plastic wrap. All of the candies at La Michoacana have a rustic homemade look. So we bought a couple of everything for a taste test. It's gooey and it's got some little nuts in there, pieces of pecan.

BENAVIDES: I haven't had this in a long time. You can taste, you can taste the goat milk, right?

DAVIES: I grew up in San Antonio where leche quemada is part of the city's food culture. But for Yvette, who's from the border town of Laredo, cajeta is even a bigger deal.

BENAVIDES: My father really, really loved Mexican candy, in particular leche quemada. So, he would, with a very large spoon, take the leche quemada from the jar and he would put it on the tortilla and roll it up and give it to one of us. We would roll up the end of the little tube of the tortilla because it would drip everywhere and we didn't want to lose a drop of it.

DAVIES: The taste for cajeta is spreading outside of South Texas and even beyond the Latino consumer. Maybe cajeta leche quemada is the next Mexican culinary export to enjoy the sweet taste of success. For NPR News, I'm David Martin Davies in San Antonio.

GREENE: Our summer-long candy series continues online. They're listed at npr.org/AmeriCandy. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.