What Is Mascarpone Cheese? History, Etymology, Recipe, and Uses

Updated on March 7, 2019
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I am a home cook on the weekends and a teacher and writer during the week. My favorite dish to make is ossobuco, my abuela's recipe.

What Is Mascarpone?

Pronounced mass-car-poh-nay, mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese that's made by curdling whole cream from a cow with an acid, such as tartaric acid, vinegar, lemon juice, or citric acid.

Texture
Flavor
Appearance
Fat Content
Creamy, soft
Buttery, mild, slightly sweet
White, creamy, smooth
60-75%

The History Of Mascarpone Cheese

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 Etymology Of Mascarpone

The origins of the name are still not definitive, but there are three popular beliefs.

  1. Some believe the word mascarpone is a derivative of the Spanish phrase "mas que bueno" (more than good) and is a result of Spanish rule over Italy.
  2. Some origin stories believe mascarpone comes from the Lombardy word for ricotta cheese, "mascarpia." Ricotta cheese and mascarpone are produced using a similar process.
  3. The third possibility is that the name comes from "mascarpa," a milk by-product made from the whey of aged cheese. (Buratto 5)

Uses

Mascarpone is a speciality 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 in mascarpone cheese, markets with the slogan "half the calories of butter" to convince people to substitute butter for mascarpone 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 Make Mascarpone Cheese

Traditionally, mascarpone is made with two simple ingredients: whole cream and lemon juice.

  1. Pour 2 1/2 cup heavy cream into a saucepan and cook on medium heat until it simmers.
  2. Once the cream starts simmering, add in 2 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice and whisk for 13-15 minutes until it thickens. To know when it's ready, dip a wooden spoon into the cream and if it coats the spoon, you can turn off the heat and move the saucepan into an ice bath.
  3. Once the cream is cool, pour it into a strainer with cheesecloth covering the strainer and a bowl underneath.
  4. Place in the fridge for 24 hours. You'll get a bit of liquid separated in the bowl, which you can dump. What remains in the cheesecloth is the mascarpone cheese, which you can transfer to a bowl.

Where to Buy It

If you don't feel like making your own, you can find mascarpone at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find it in the heavy cream and butter section of your local grocery store, but it is more common in urban or suburban areas than it is in rural areas of the United States.

What's the Difference between Mascarpone and Cream Cheese?

Mascarpone is made with heavy cream whereas cream cheese is made with whole milk, so mascarpone has a higher fat content (60-75%) which lends to a richer, creamier, almost buttery taste and texture. Cream cheese by contrast has only 30-40% fat and is more acidic.

Depending on the dish, you can easily substitute one ingredient for the other. Keep in mind that cream cheese is a little more sour.

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