In the luckiest kitchens across Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Colombia, spoiled milk might be something worth celebrating. Dulce de leche cortada, also known as miguelucho, is a Latin American dessert that combines curdled milk—separated either via lemon, lime, or a passed expiration date—with cinnamon, sugar, and egg. When set to simmer for about an hour, the mixture’s intermingling flavors and increasingly squeaky texture give rise to a light brown mound of delightfully rich, caramelized curds.
Though many recipes today call for adding something acidic, such as lemon peel, to separate the milk, many believe that the dish arose as a way to use up milk that had already curdled, before refrigerators were common appliances. But the sweet curds, described as tasting like cottage cheese covered in caramel, have since become a household favorite.
Recipes vary from home to home, as well as across countries. Some call for fresh whole milk, others for powdered, some for panela (unrefined, whole cane sugar), others white sugar. But no matter the recipe, almost all dulce de leche cortada dishes involve mixing acidic curds with sugar and spices such as cinnamon. While most recipes are simple, they all require a somewhat attentive chef: The dish can burn easily, so it should be stirred occasionally and kept under a watchful eye. In the end, however, most who have tried the dessert claim the curds are worth the wait. Topped with raisins, they’re often served with a slice of queso blanco, and for many, a generous helping of nostalgic memories of a grandmother’s kitchen.