Mascarpone is an intensely rich Italian triple cream dessert cheese. It often appears in Tiramisu, but is also eaten plain or used to dress up sweet fruits. This type of cheese is readily available in specialty stores and most markets, and many cooks have learned that a small amount of the sweet, rich cheese goes a long way. It is sometimes confused with cream cheese, another soft cheese, but the two are technically different.
Cooks can also use mascarpone in savory applications, blended with spices and spread on bread. The rich cheese lends itself well to savory cheese tortes, and is sometimes blended with Gorgonzola and other strong savory cheeses to be spread on crackers or breads. Especially in Italy, it is very popular in savory dishes. The high fat cheese is generally eaten very young, and is often likened to yogurt because the two products use similar manufacturing processes.
Mascarpone has been made in Italy for centuries, and is thought to originate in Lombardy, where it plays an important role in much of the cuisine. The roots of the name are unclear, but are probably related to the process used to make it, which is similar to the technique employed to make ricotta. Mascarpia, in the local dialect, means ricotta, with the word “mascarpa” being used to refer to dairy products made from whey.
To make this cheese, milk is allowed to stand for approximately 24 hours and then the cream is skimmed off into large double boilers and heated while being mixed with a mildly acidic culture. The mixture is allowed to stand while it thickens and the whey precipitates out, and then it is squeezed in cheesecloth for another 24 hours to press out any additional whey. After this, the cheese can be packaged for sale. Unlike many other cheese products, it is suitable for vegetarians because rennet is not used.
Mascarpone is a very soft, spreadable cheese that resembles cream cheese in texture although it tends to be very smooth, and a pale cream in color. Many producers use summer milk, which is sweeter and has more flowery notes, lending the cheese a sweet and complex scent. Some dairies will feed their cows diets high in flowers and herbs to give the cheese a very fresh flavor. The cheese is unarguably delicious, appealing to fat receptors on the tongue in a wide variety of culinary settings.
Some people mispronounce the name of this cheese as marscapone, which has led to some confusion over the correct spelling and pronunciation of the word. Like words in many other romance languages, The name is pronounced much as it as spelled, with all the consonants being clearly pronounced.