Mascarpone Cheese: What is it?

All your questions about this delicious Italian cheese will be answered.

Originating in the Lombardy region in Renaissance Italy, mascarpone is double or triple cream cheese. You may know it best as a key ingredient in tiramisu, chocolate desserts, or Italian coffee. This soft Italian acid-set cream cheese is often mispronounced as “maRs-car=pone” but is actually pronounced as “mahs-car-POH-nay”.

In Italy, mascarpone cheese is known as a “prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale” (PAT). Translated, this is a “traditional agri-food product.” Popular throughout Italy and many parts of the world, this cheese is known for its sweet taste and silky texture. It is used to add a rich texture to many savory dishes. This is mostly down to a high percentage of saturated fat inside the cheese. 

a spoonful of fresh mascarpone cheese

So, what exactly is mascarpone cheese? Well, it has an ivory color to its surface and, on closer inspection, it is an incredibly smooth cream cheese that spreads like a dream on an array of dishes. This cheese has a slightly sweet, milky flavor with a rich, buttery texture. Up to 75 percent of the cheese is made up of high butterfat content giving it its distinctive texture.

Compared to domestic cream cheese, mascarpone is generally more costly. However, some U.S. brand products sport the Italian style but are far less expensive than imported mascarpone cheese. 

You can easily find mascarpone in most large grocery stores (in the dairy or cheese aisle) or at specialty cheese stores. You can also browse online to find different sources for this delicious treat. 

It’s all well and good knowing what mascarpone cheese is but we wanted to find out more about it. So, in today’s blog, we will be discussing how mascarpone is made, the different uses for it, and the alternatives you can use in case you can’t mascarpone easily. 

How is Mascarpone Cheese Made? 

Whether you make mascarpone cheese at home or if it’s commercially produced, the same process is generally used. Of course, mass-produced mascarpone cheese is made in very large quantities but the process is surprisingly simple.

By adding acid to fresh cream, it will begin to coagulate (starts to go solid). The curds that are leftover then get cooked very gently over a continuous but light heat. This continues until the curds reach the same consistency as a creme fraiche. 

Mascarpone cheese is quite unique. Many other types of cheese rely on a particular enzyme’s ability to thicken. This enzyme, known as rennet, is produced in the stomachs of ruminant animals (large hoofed herbivore grazing mammals that get their nutrients from fermenting plant-based foods).

In contrast, mascarpone uses tartaric or citric acid to help solidify the cream. If you intend to make this cheese at home, you can use lemon juice instead. Simply drain the whey to be left with a fresh, buttery, soft mascarpone cheese.

Once produced, mascarpone cheese can be packaged and distributed immediately. This is because it’s a fresh cheese that should be consumed as quickly as possible. Otherwise, it will begin to spoil at a faster rate than hard or aged cheeses.

Different Ways to Use Mascarpone Cheese 

You can use mascarpone cheese in a wide variety of sweet and savory dishes. Once added to a recipe, the cheese provides a creamy and rich element that enhances the texture and flair all around. 

We recommend using mascarpone cheese instead of whipped cream on a bowl of fruit or add as a frosting on cupcakes or other types of cakes. You can also use it in cheesecakes or as an alternative to sour cream in muffins or banana bread.

When it comes to being used in savory dishes, mascarpone cheese is great in different pasta sauces. In general, this cheese can substitute just about any cream in any dish! You can use it to stuff chicken breasts, spread on bagels, or thicken out soups. Its uses are almost endless.

We love adding mascarpone to scrambled eggs to add a creamier element to the dish. You can also add some teaspoons of the cheese to roasted vegetables for an enhanced flavor and texture. 

Mascarpone can also be used as a delicious dip for different foods. Simply whisk some fresh herbs and garlic into the mascarpone and you have yourself a delectable side sauce for all kinds of dishes. You can even enjoy this cheese as a light dessert alongside a sprinkle of cocoa powder, a drizzle of honey, or some flakes of chocolate. 

Whether you serve the cheese with cookies or berries for a savory or sweet experience, mascarpone cheese is a chef’s best friend in the kitchen. Be creative and see what you prefer this creamy cheese with!

Alternatives to Mascarpone Cheese

As you can probably guess, some creams work well as substitutes when you have no mascarpone cheese at hand. Perhaps the closest thing to mascarpone are French creme fraiche and English clotted cream.

Other close cousins to the cheese are firm American cream cheese and creamy ricotta. However, ensure the ricotta is of high quality and has no large curds. While ricotta and American cheese cream can work well, they will not provide as much richness or smoothness to your dish as mascarpone cheese will. 

It’s possible to blend ricotta and mix with whipping cream for a supreme substitute flavor. You could even add sour cream to American cream cheese for that extra boost of flavor. If you find mascarpone cheese is a little too rich for your palette, consider squeezing a little lemon juice into it. This should make it a little easier on your taste buds. 

Storing Mascarpone Cheese

It’s important that you store softer cheese such as mascarpone properly to ensure it doesn’t spoil quickly. In general, mascarpone is packaged in tubs that should be refrigerated. Always inspect the use-by date on the tub so you can gauge how long it should be stored. If you’re unsure, this is usually around a week. 

As we stated, mascarpone tends to spoil quite quickly. Therefore, if you open a container, you should use the cheese within a few days. Any unused cheese should be placed back in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container. Within just a few days, you may notice some mold, a discoloration, or an unpleasant aroma. If this is the case, you should discard the cheese immediately.

You can also freeze mascarpone for two to three months. This is handy if you need to keep it for a special occasion but, be warned. Freezing will negatively affect the mascarpone’s texture and, once defrosted, it may separate.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve never tasted mascarpone or cooked with it, we highly recommend trying it out soon. Mascarpone cheese is versatile and delectable, there’s really no limit to what you can make with it.

Out of all the different types, this cheese is one of our favorites and we think you’ll love it too, so if you don’t have any mascarpone in your fridge, you need to get some!

What’s your favorite way to use mascarpone cheese? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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Written by Rocco Smith

Rocco is a recent graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in Editing, Writing, and Media. With seven years’ experience in the restaurant industry as a cook, server, bartender, and more, he is deeply passionate about intertwining his fondness for food with his love of language.