Pliable and cream-based cheeses make the perfect toppings and accompaniments to a wide range of desserts. An Italian cheese like mascarpone, which is often referred to as the “Italian cream cheese,” certainly adds a certain amount of zest and richness to each and every dish it is featured in. But what exactly is it?
Mascarpone is a thick and creamy cheese from the region of Northern Italy that features heavy cream and tartaric acid as its base. This zesty cheese can be eaten alone on bread or crackers, and is also commonly used as a dessert filling or topping.
We have discussed how cream cheese features heavily in desserts, but it can be said that cheeses like mascarpone offer an even finer and more delicate base or topping for a variety of desserts. In this guide, we are going to explore all there is to know about this Italian marvel.
What Is Mascarpone Made Of?
Mascarpone is an Italian double or triple cream cheese, maybe best known as an essential ingredient in tiramisu, an Italian coffee, and chocolate dessert. But this sweet and silky cow’s milk cheese adds rich texture to savory dishes too, a quality achieved by its especially high percentage of saturated fat.
Mascarpone originated in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy during the Renaissance.
This beloved product is an ivory-colored, exceptionally smooth, and easily spreadable fresh cream cheese. The flavor is milky and slightly sweet. The rich, buttery texture comes from the high butterfat content (up to 75 percent). Mascarpone costs more than domestic cream cheese, although products from U.S. brands producing it in the Italian style are less expensive than imported ones.
You can find both in many large grocery stores in the dairy or cheese section or at specialty cheese shops. I made the mistake of searching for it at my local Wal-Mart and walked away empty-handed. So always try a specialty shop or an Italian deli.
Commercial producers use the same simple process you can employ at home to make mascarpone, but on a larger scale, of course. Basically, adding acid to fresh cream causes it to coagulate; the resulting curds get gently cooked over a steady heat until they reach the consistency of crème fraîche.
Unlike many kinds of cheese that rely on the thickening ability of rennet, an enzyme produced in the stomachs of ruminant animals, mascarpone uses citric or tartaric acid to solidify the cream. Lemon juice works in a home kitchen. After draining the whey, soft, fresh, buttery mascarpone remains. As a fresh cheese, it can be packaged and distributed immediately.
When people say mascarpone, they’re most likely referring to mascarpone cheese–not to be confused with whipped cream of some sort. It’s made from only two ingredients: heavy cream and citric or tartaric acid. The cream is heated and then the acid is added to solidify and thicken the cream. It’s then run through a cheesecloth to remove excess liquid.
The fat content is typically between 60-75 percent, making it easily spreadable and super silky.
The taste is similar to that of cream cheese, ricotta cheese, creme fraiche, or clotted cream, but with a little more sweetness and acidity. This makes it a versatile cheese for both sweet and savory dishes.
You might have heard mascarpone referred to as mascarpone cream. The difference between mascarpone cheese and cream is that the cream is made from the cheese, eggs, and sugar that are whipped together. The result is the whipped topping that’s used to make tiramisu. It’s also used as a topping for cake, fruit, and coffee drinks.
Who Invented Mascarpone?
The exact inventor is unknown. Mascarpone originated during the Middle Ages in Lombardy, a region in the northern part of Italy with a rich dairy and agricultural heritage. In the 1500s and 1600s, dairymen in the region became famous for selling fresh cheese curds, known as mascarpone.
The Italian government has given mascarpone the P.A.T. (Prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale) or “traditional regional food product” label so that no other city, country, or state can lay claim to its origin and history.
The origins of the name are still not definitive, but there are three popular beliefs:
- Some believe the name is a derivative of the Spanish phrase “mas que Bueno” (more than good) and is a result of Spanish rule over Italy.
- Some origin stories believe the name comes from the Lombardy word for ricotta cheese, “mascarpia.” Ricotta cheese and mascarpone are produced using a similar process.
- The third possibility is that the name comes from “mascarpa,” a milk by-product made from the whey of aged cheese.
Is Mascarpone Really A Cheese?
Yes. It is best to think of it as more of a cream cheese than a traditional type of sliced or grated cheese.
Mascarpone is commonly confused with a variety of different cheeses and creamy confections. Let’s take a look at how it is different.
What Is The Difference Between Mascarpone And Cream Cheese?
Mascarpone has at least twice as much fat as American cream cheese, which gives it a richer, almost melt-in-your-mouth quality. You can use the two interchangeably, but you should expect differences in both flavor and texture. American cream cheese tends to be firmer with a tangier flavor. Some dessert recipes call for portions of each.
Is It The Same As Creme Fraiche?
Mascarpone is the Italian version of creme fraiche, still soured by a lactic culture but is milder and sweeter. They all have a delightful, piquant edge and are perfect for partnering dense chocolate cakes.
Is Mascarpone The Same As Ricotta Cheese?
Both of these Italian cheeses are quite different. They share a similar texture and consistency, but mascarpone is much thicker, less airy, and a bit zestier when compared to the taste of ricotta.
What Is The Difference Between Mascarpone And Greek Yogurt?
Both are certainly tangy, but that is about it. Greek yogurt is highly nutritious, inexpensive, and easily accessible. But it also comes with its drawbacks. For example, it’s not as creamy and rich as mascarpone and the taste is tangier. However, it can work well in baking recipes, desserts, and fruit bowls
Is It The Same As Whipped Cream?
No, mascarpone is different than traditional whipped cream. With that in mind, it can be whipped effectively into its very own style of whipped cream.
Even if you use it in the famous tiramisu, no one will notice you ran out of mascarpone and turned to the old cream cheese. There’s one catch, though–you do have to mix in a touch of butter and some whipped cream. The result will be as milky, sweet, and tangy as mascarpone.
But while cream cheese is about 33% milkfat, mascarpone is up to 75%.
Crème fraîche is the French version of mascarpone. However, there are a couple of differences. Crème fraîche is not as thick and fatty so its texture isn’t quite as rich and unctuous as mascarpone. Also, it is not as sweet, is quite acidic, and has a tang to it. But when used in cooked savory dishes such as dense soups, stews, pizzas, sauces, and cheesecakes no one will ever know. And it’s half the calories and half the cholesterol.
They are both Italian and they are both spreadable, smooth, and milky-sweet. However, ricotta cheese is way more moist and cheesy, having a grainy texture and a nice bite to it. The processes for making these two kinds of cheese differ, after all, and ricotta forms curds when coagulated and strained, being soft, sweet, and milky, while mascarpone is rich and decadent, unctuous, and not so watery.
Ricotta is made from leftover whey of mozzarella and provolone cheese and is “cooked” until curds form. Ricotta contains less fat than mascarpone and isn’t quite as buttery and velvety. So there’s a trick to making it a good mascarpone replacement. Mix the ricotta with whipped cream and cream cheese and it will fool anyone into thinking it’s actually its fattier Italian brother.
If you want a mascarpone-based recipe but want to cut back on cholesterol and calories, this is the perfect choice for you.
Cottage cheese also contains more protein than its Italian cousin, being more filling and actually helpful in losing a couple of pounds. The thing about cottage cheese is its texture: it’s really different from mascarpone as it has curds. But you can make it smooth in a food processor.
Sour cream has a similar texture but it’s not as creamy. It also packs a tangy punch and is less fatty. It’s best to use it as a replacement in savory dishes rather than sweets and desserts. You can use it for cake frosting but it is a perfect combo for soups, dressings, dips, and sauces.
While Mascarpone is harder to find and quite expensive, you can find Greek yogurt anywhere and it costs less. You should know that Greek yogurt is not so creamy and it has a tangier flavor. But it’s the perfect choice alongside fruit recipes that include mascarpone (grilled peaches, yogurt, honey, and mint).
What Can You Make?
As mentioned, mascarpone is a specialty in Lombardy and is used in many local dishes, from savory to sweet. In the United States, it is more commonly associated with Tiramisu.
Most people use it in place of whipped cream or butter. The BelGioioso Cheese Company, the leading brand for this Italian fave, markets with the slogan “half the calories of butter” to convince people to substitute butter for their cheese.
You can use a dollop of it on top of some fruits or spread it over toast and sprinkle some cinnamon on top for a snack or light breakfast.
You can also add it to soups and sauces in place of heavy cream or sour cream.
How To Rescue Split Mascarpone
Mascarpone has a very high-fat content and so will split more easily than double/whipping cream or cream cheese. Once it has split it is quite difficult to recover, though if you catch it early (very fine grains) sometimes you can correct it by very gently whisking in (by hand) a little cream.
How To Make Mascarpone Smooth
Generally, you whip the cheese to soften it and it warms up a bit in the process, then if the milk you added is colder than the cheese, the fats in the cheese will solidify again, causing it to appear curdled. The best way to avoid this is to make sure everything is at room temperature and to add the liquids very slowly.
Can You Overbeat Mascarpone?
When making this recipe it is very important not to overbeat the cream. This product has high fat content and can curdle very easily. To avoid this, stop whipping as soon as you see the mixture thicken.
In general, it’s not the best choice for your heart health as it’s one of the highest fat cheeses (44 percent, of which 30 percent is saturated). Sadly there isn’t a reduced-fat version, but try substituting half in recipes with low-fat greek yogurt for a healthier approach, or substitute it for Quark or low-fat cream cheese instead.
- 124 Calories
- 0.5g Carbs
- 0.5g net carbs
- 13g Fat
- 2g Protein
When exposed to air, mascarpone is prone to go bad or crumble. So, it is recommended to store this cheese in an airtight container or zipping freezer bag.
You may also choose to separate it into smaller portions to avoid defrosting too much to eat at one time.
Make sure you have removed the air from either of them before you lock the cheese in. You can always use a vacuum sealer as well if you happen to have one.
You can also add another method for added protection against freezer burn and air, like aluminum foil.
The reason this cheese tends to freeze so well is because of its high fat and water content.
Not only that but there are several dishes containing mascarpone that can be easily frozen as well. Personally, I have seen tiramisu freeze amazingly well, and so does pasta sauce with mascarpone.
However, like most things, there is a right and a wrong way to go about freezing your cheese.
If done the wrong way, you could end up with cheese that is curdled, crystallized, watered down, dry, or has generally lost its soft and buttery texture.
Why Is My Mascarpone Runny?
To prevent runniness, you can replace egg whites in the filling with heavy whipping cream instead. This one change eliminates the risk of using eggs and creates a more stable filling.
Combining mascarpone with whipped cream stabilizes the cream so it doesn’t deflate, but you can add an extra bit of insurance by stabilizing the whipped cream with gelatin first. Combine unflavored gelatin and warm water. Add a bit of warmed whipping cream to temper the mixture.
Whip the cream until soft peaks form, add the gelatin mixture and continue whipping to form stiff peaks. When added to mascarpone cheese, this whipping cream forms a slightly stiff, stable filling that won’t weep.
How To Pronounce Mascarpone
The name is very often mispronounced. The actual way it is pronounced is “maa Skaar pow nay.”
Where To Buy Mascarpone
It is near the front of the store in the Deli Aisle rather than by the cream cheese near the back of the store where I think it should be.