Mascarpone Cheese
Craig Miyamoto
What It Is? - How It's Made? - How You Can Make It? -
Substitutions? - Where To Get It?

Mascarpone is a triple-creme cheese, made from a generally low-fat (25%) content fresh cream. It's made from the milk of cows that have been fed special grasses filled with fresh herbs and flowers -- a special diet that creates a unique taste often described as "fresh and delicious."

Mascarpone is used in regional dishes of Lombardy, where it is a specialty. It generally is used alone (sometimes a bit of sugar is added) or in zabaglione. Milky-white in color, it is a thick cream that is easily spread. When fresh, it smells like milk and cream, and often is used in place of butter to thicken and enrich rissoti.

The cheese apparently originated in the area between Lodi and Abbiategrasso, west and south of Milan, probably in the late-16th or early-17th century. Some say the name came from "mas que bueno" (Spanish for "better than good"), although this may only have been a judgement made by a Spanish official when Lombardy was dominated by Spain. It also may have come from "mascarpa," a milk produce made from the whey of stracchino or aged cheese.

Or, it may come from "mascarpia," the local dialect for ricotta, since both cheeses are made by a virtually identical process. The thought then, is that mascarpone originated as a by-product from other cheeses.

Originally, it was produced in autumn and winter for immediate consumption. Generally, the cheese is sold right after processing and should be used immediately. If refrigerated, it will last about a week.

How Mascarpone Is Made

The cow's milk is allowed to stand, and after rising naturally to the milk surface, the cream is skimmed off, poured into metal containers, and heated in a double boiler. Once it reaches 185 degrees Fahrenheit (85 Celcius), tartaric acid blended in water is added; the mixture thickens shortly, becoming very dense.

It is allowed to rest refrigerated for 12 hours in special containers, where the whey separates. The mascarpone (minus the whey) is placed in cloth bags and allowed to further purge its whey for 24 additional hours.

Nutritional Information: Mascarpone has 453 calories for each 100 grams (3-1/2 oz.) and a relatively high fat content of 47%. It contains very little protein.

How YOU Can Make Mascarpone

For those who wish to create their own mascarpone, there are several ways to go about it.

In the Prodigy Guest Chefs Cookbook, Nick Malgieri posts this recipe for making 1 pound of mascarpone. You will need 1 quart whipping cream (not ultra pasteurized) and 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (or lemon juice).

  1. Choose a stainless steel bowl that fits inside a large saucepan without touching the bottom of the pan.
  2. Add water to the pan and place the bowl in the pan so that the bowl touches the surface of the water but still sits firmly on the rim of the pan.
  3. Remove the bowl, place the pan on medium heat, and bring the water to a boil.
  4. Place the cream in the bowl and place over the boiling water.
  5. Adjust the heat under the pan to medium, and heat the cream, checking the temperature often with an instant-read thermometer, to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally.
  6. Stir in the vinegar, continuing to stir gently until the cream begins to curdle.
  7. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow the curds to firm up for 10 minutes.
  8. Line a strainer or colander with dampened cheesecloth, napkin, or coffee filters.
  9. Set the curds into the strainer.
  10. Allow the mascarpone to cool to room temperature, cover the strainer tightly with plastic wrap.
  11. Refrigerate for 24 hours to allow the cheese to finish draining and become firm.
  12. Store in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container.
  13. Use within 3 to 4 days.

How To Substitute For Mascarpone

Sometimes, it's a lot easier just to substitute. Tiramisu creators have used ricotta or cottage cheese as successful substitutes by whipping the cheese until it is smooth.

Other sources have created their own substitutions. In the Epicurean Chef's Forum, "Kim" posted the following: "I found a substitution that worked okay is 8 ounces of softened cream cheese, plus 3 tablespoons of sour cream, plus 2 tablespoons of heavy cream (liquid, not whipped).

In "The Cook's Thesaurus," the following are suggested: (1) Blend 8 ounces softened cream cheese with 1/4 cup whipping cream, or (2) blend 8 ounces softened cream cheese with 1 tablespoon cream or butter or milk, or (3) Blend 6 ounces softened cream cheese with 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup cream (or Montrachet).

Where To Get Mascarpone

Unfortunately, mascarpone isn't always available at your neighborhood supermarket. General instructions for hunting down mascarpone in your area include checking with gourmet shops or large chain grocery store delicatessens or select cheese areas. You can also check the Yellow Pages for Italian delicatessens and markets.

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