What Is Mascarpone Cheese?
It’s creamy, delightful, and spreads beautifully on just about anything. Plus, we'll tell you how to make your own at home
Mascarpone cheese is a key ingredient in the classic Italian dessert, tiramisu. In this application, mascarpone is gently folded into an egg custard to create a silky filling that is layered between coffee- and rum-soaked ladyfingers. Though mascarpone cheese is widely known for its role in this iconic dessert, the rich cream cheese-like spread can majorly enhance all sorts of dishes in your day-to-day meals.
Mascarpone cheese is essentially the Italian equivalent to American Philadelphia-style cream cheese holding a similar thickness, spreadable texture, and mild taste. However, mascarpone is richer in milkfat, making it feel a bit more luxurious than a regular ol’ brick of cream cheese. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), American cream cheese should include at least 33% milk fat and 55% moisture, while mascarpone contains upwards of 60% to 75% milk fat.
Mascarpone cheese is made from cow’s milk that is congealed with the addition of an acid, such as citric acid, tartaric acid, lemon juice, or vinegar. The silky dairy product is oftentimes sweetened and used in desserts or paired simply with fruits. Our Puff Pastry Summer Fruit Slab Pie and Mini Apple Pies with Whipped Mascarpone are perfect examples of this classic pairing. Of course, mascarpone cheese can be used in virtually all the same ways that you would utilize cream cheese. Spread it on your morning bagel, dollop it over baguette slices for crostini, or serve it alongside hearty toast, lox, capers, and red onions for a tasty brunch spread. The luscious cheese is also great incorporated into cooked savory dishes. Add a couple of spoonfuls to your mashed potatoes for more richness, use it to replace part of the ricotta cheese called for in recipes such as lasagna, or stir into warm pasta for a decadent, tangy finish. Even add a dollop to complete soups and sauces.
Mascarpone cheese can be found in the dairy section or in the specialty cheese section of the grocery store. If you have trouble find it at your favorite local grocery store, try your hand at making it from scratch at home with just two basic ingredients—heavy cream and lemon juice. You will save money by making mascarpone at home, as a small tub of this creamy goodness can run pricey. A homemade batch of mascarpone cheese will have a delicate lemony flavor to it, so if you prefer a more neutral and creamy flavor, substitute the lemon juice called for in the recipe below with 1/4 teaspoon citric acid powder instead.
The best outcome with going the homemade route, yielding thick, delicious mascarpone, will come from using pasteurized cream; however, many commercial creams are ultra-pasteurized or heated at a higher temperature than pasteurized cream. For the purpose of making a home cook-friendly recipe, using ultra-pasteurized cream will work just fine, but keep in mind it will yield a texture similar to more crème fraîche.
You will also need to have a few key pieces of cookware on hand to make a successful batch of mascarpone at home. It’s best to warm the cream in a pot made with a non-reactive metal, such a stainless steel or ceramic, instead of aluminum, copper, or iron to prevent the cheese from taking on a metallic taste. Also, use a wooden spoon instead of a whisk or metal spoon to stir the cream mixture while on the stove. You will need a kitchen thermometer to accurately determine the temperature of the cream mixture as you are warming it. Don’t forget to have a few layers of cheesecloth handy.
FYI: As you stir the mixture, it will begin to thicken, but cream does not curdle in the same way that milk does. You may see small cheese particles, but not many.
How to Make Mascarpone Cheese
Makes 12 ounces // Active time: 20 minutes // Total time: 8 hours, 20 minutes
- 2 cups pasteurized heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon citric acid
1. In a small saucepan, warm cream over low heat. Bring the cream to a gentle simmer; stirring constantly. When the cream reaches 190°F, stir in lemon juice and cook for 5 minutes. Remove mixture from heat and cool in a large bowl filled with ice for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
2. Line a fine mesh strainer with 3 to 4 layers of cheesecloth and suspend the strainer over a medium bowl. Pour the cream mixture into cheesecloth. Cover the strainer and bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the mixture for 8 hours, or overnight.
3. Remove mascarpone cheese from the cheesecloth and discard drained liquid (whey). Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
After a night of straining in the refrigerator, your fresh mascarpone cream should be creamy, and free of lumps. Spread it right away onto your favorite breakfast carbs and store the rest in an airtight container.