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What Is Mascarpone?
Mascarpone, also known as Italian cream cheese, is a rich, spreadable cow’s milk cheese with an especially high percentage of butterfat. Mascarpone is a Renaissance-era invention from the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, and a staple ingredient in Italian desserts like tiramisu.
Mascarpone is made by adding a tartaric acid or citrus acid like lemon juice to full-fat heavy cream, which naturally separates the curds from the whey. The curds are then cooked further until they’ve taken on a smooth, creamy texture. Mascarpone relies on the addition of citric acid or tartaric acid to solidify and set.
What Is the Difference Between Mascarpone and Cream Cheese?
While similar in look and application, American-style cream cheese is both firmer and brighter tasting than its Italian counterpart. Mascarpone has a looser, velvety texture, and rich mouthfeel similar to a double-crème brie. American cream cheese contains about 55% butterfat, while mascarpone contains a whopping 75%.
4 Substitutes for Mascarpone
If you’re having trouble tracking down an authentic Italian mascarpone, there are a few readily available options that make good substitutes.
- Crème fraîche: Crème fraîche is likely the closest substitute for mascarpone, both in flavor and texture. Crème fraîche is more acidic than mascarpone and has a slightly pronounced tangy flavor.
- Clotted cream: English-style clotted cream will also work as a proxy in many recipes that call for mascarpone: While not considered a cheese, clotted cream does carry some of the same flavor notes as mascarpone (namely a mellow, cooked milk taste) as well as a high-fat content.
- Ricotta: Ricotta can fill in as an alternate for mascarpone in a pinch—especially for baking applications—but the main difference will be in the texture: Look for a high-quality brand of ricotta with very fine curds. You can also whip ricotta prior to use for a creamier effect.
- Cream cheese: Many recipes call for a combination of both cream cheese and mascarpone, so depending on the application, cream cheese may be a good substitute, especially in baked goods. You can also add a spoonful of sour cream or whipping cream to mimic mascarpone’s airy, meltaway consistency in dishes like risotto or soup.
Total Time12 hr 25 min
Cook Time25 min
- 2 cups of heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, from about 1 lemon
- Bring the heavy cream to a low simmer in a small saucepan. Stir or whisk constantly to avoid scorching.
- Remove from the heat, and add half the lemon juice. Gently stir with a metal spoon—a whisk will dissolve any of the curds you’re attempting to coax out. The heavy cream should begin to coagulate and thicken.
- Add the remaining lemon juice and stir. Let the pan cool entirely, then transfer to the refrigerator overnight.
- In the morning, transfer the cream to a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Squeeze out any excess moisture. Store in the refrigerator and use promptly.
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