September 1

Mascarpone Cheese – Everything You Need to Know

Written by: Caitlin Clark

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If you have ever enjoyed the classic Italian dessert tiramisu or a high-end cheesecake, you have likely partaken in the unique delicacy that is Mascarpone cheese. Despite fetching exorbitant prices at the grocery store, this smooth, creamy spread is not difficult to make at home. Let us fill you in about what it is and how to easily whip some up yourself.

Enjoy!

What is Mascarpone Cheese?


Since the middle ages, Italians living in the Lombardy Province have transformed cow dairy cream into this sweet, silky cheese. Mascarpone is a fresh, triple-cream cheese, meaning that it is not aged and has a butterfat content above 75% per dry matter. This gives it a supremely buttery taste and a velvety texture, making it a flawless base for ice cream, frosting, and sauces.

How is Mascarpone Cheese Made?


Traditionally, this medieval Italian delight was made from freshly skimmed cream thickened with a gentle heating step, then fermented with lactic acid cultures until the cream curdled to a spreadable texture. Modern Mascarpone is now more often made from a mixture of pasteurized cream and milk and thickened by the direct addition of acid instead of the addition of microorganisms. 

Mascarpone vs. Cream Cheese 


While cream cheese is derived from whole milk, Mascarpone starts as heavy cream. This means that the fat content of Mascarpone is much higher, giving it a richer taste and a softer texture. Cream cheese is also fermented longer so that it comes across as more acidic. Compared to cream cheese, Mascarpone is sweeter, less tart, fattier, and less rubbery.

Different Kinds of Mascarpone Cheese 


Mascarpone Cheese

When you see the word “Mascarpone,” assume it refers to Mascarpone cheese -- the rich spread made from fresh, acid-thickened cream.

Mascarpone Cream

Occasionally, grocers sell a prepared mixture known as “Mascarpone cream” consisting of Mascarpone cheese, sugar, milk, and (usually) eggs whipped together. This is the fluffy base used to make tiramisu. You may find Mascarpone cream on top of coffees and cakes or as a dessert filling.

Mascarpone Cheese Substitutes


  • Crème Fraîche: Very similar to Mascarpone and with nearly the same fat content, crème fraîche is also quite mild-tasting, but it has just a bit more tartness. It will likely be the best substitute in terms of taste and texture.
  • Cream Cheese: While cream cheese can be interchangeable with Mascarpone in certain sweets like cheesecake and frosting, it has a tangier flavor, a firmer texture, and a lower fat content. It will change the taste of what you are making, and the consistency may also be affected depending on the quantity you use.
  • Ricotta: Ricotta will be a good substitute in many baking applications, like cakes or bread. Otherwise, it may not be ideal because it's composed of very fine, grainy curds, in sharp contrast to Mascarpone’s perfect smoothness.
  • Clotted Cream: Clotted cream is thickened only through a heating process, without adding acid or rennet. This means that unlike the other substitutes listed above, it is not a cheese! Despite this, it is very similar to Mascarpone in terms of flavor and fat content, and so it makes a perfect substitute if you do not find the price prohibitive.

What Does Mascarpone Cheese Taste Like?


Mascarpone is gently sweet and acidic, with very little tang. It can be slightly nutty, and boasts a fresh buttery profile. Its mild flavor allows it to transition between sweet and savory recipes. 

Mascarpone Cheese Pairings



The mild, sweet, lactic notes of Mascarpone pair wonderfully with sweet fruits, honey, and jam. If you choose to go the savory route, some chefs swear by a dollop of Mascarpone with a drizzle of truffle oil.

Best Mascarpone Cheese Brands


Cello brand Mascarpone is an imported Italian brand. Having won accolades at both the World Cheese Awards and the American Cheese Society, this Mascarpone is of reliable quality. For desserts, try Epiu brand Mascarpone. This brand is reputed to taste sweeter than others, so it's ideal for frosting, tiramisu, or cheesecake. 

Where to Buy Mascarpone Cheese


Because it is often considered a specialty item, Mascarpone may not be available in all stores. Look for it in supermarkets in large cities or at boutique grocers; alternatively, you may choose to make your own (see below).

How Long Does Mascarpone Cheese Last?


Whether you purchase it or make it at home, Mascarpone lasts no more than 3-5 days in the fridge. If you choose to freeze it, make sure to label the container, as it should only stay in the freezer for a maximum of two months. Freezing Mascarpone will cause it to separate, but you can return it to a smooth consistency by whipping it once it thaws.

How to Make Mascarpone Cheese


Homemade Mascarpone is a fairly straightforward endeavor for a beginner cheesemaker, requiring very few ingredients and little equipment. In short, it involves heating cream to a gentle boil (around 185°F), adding an acid (tartaric acid or lemon juice), then allowing the cream to thicken and sometimes gently draining it. The experts at cheesemaking.com offer a very thorough Mascarpone recipe that include both bacterial and direct-acidified options, as well as an explanation of what to expect from several different varieties of milk and cream.

Mascarpone Cheese Recipe


Though best known for its role in the coffee-flavored dessert tiramisu, Mascarpone’s unctuous texture and sweet taste lend themselves to other confections, like this Mascarpone ice cream. It is also popular in savory dishes like quiche and risotto.

Concluding


Whether you find Mascarpone in your local supermarket or whip up a batch at home, now you know how to take advantage of this Italian luxury.

We hope you enjoyed this comprehensive article on Mascarpone cheese. Let us know if you have any suggestions, questions or comments, or recipes.

Cheers!

Caitlin


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About the author

Caitlin is a Ph.D student and chocolate researcher at Colorado State University. Her research in the Food Science program focuses on chocolate fermentation (that’s right, it’s a fermented food!) and small-batch post-harvest processing techniques. When she is not acting in her capacity as resident chocolate guru, she researches other fermented foods and beverages like beer, sausage, and natto. Caitlin was drawn to fermented foods while living in rural Spain for six years, where she was exposed to traditional, time-honored practices of food preservation. At home, she practices Bollywood dance for fun and is followed everywhere by two small pet rabbits.

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