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.
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).
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.