a test kitchen dossier
The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
— G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
Etymology: Reportedly a derivative of the Spanish màs que bueno (“better than good”), mascarpa, a whey and milk product, or mascarpia, the local Italian dialect for ricotta
Area of Origin: Region between Lodi and Abbiategrasso, southwest of Milano, Italy; now a specialty in the Lombardia region
Mascarpone cheese may be best known for its use in the infamous Italian dessert tiramisù. However, this triple-crème cheese is a versatile ingredient that lends a decadent richness to many varieties of dishes, from risotto to cheesecake. A fresh, soft, mildly sweet cheese, its rich yet delicate texture is an upscale substitute for the more familiar cream cheese.
A mild-mannered ingredient, there seems to be no strife or drama related to the evolution of mascarpone. (We were disappointed, too.) It is, quite simply, a fresh cheese (minimum 25% fat content) made from cow’s milk. It is important to note that the cows from which mascarpone originates are fed exclusively on fresh grasses and herbs.
Mascarpone’s production differs from most cheeses in that no rennet or aging is involved in the process. Instead, the fresh milk is allowed to stand until its cream naturally rises to the surface, at which point the cream is skimmed off and heated in a double-boiler to a temperature of 190°F. Acids are then added to the liquid, causing the formation of fine lumps, which after stirring become a more solid mass. The mass is then separated from the whey and drained in fine cloth for approximately 24 hours, resulting in a delicately rich, spreadable cheese.
The rich, mild flavor of mascarpone makes it extremely versatile. It can be eaten “straight,” with fresh fruit or bread, or mixed with a variety of ingredients from herbs to flavored oils for a spread.
Best known for its use in tiramisù, mascarpone is also delicious in pasta dishes, cheesecakes, and as a decadent substitute for cream cheese.
We were attracted to two particular aspects of mascarpone: (1) its potential use in creamy dishes; and (2) its ideal as a match for our Main Ingredient, honey. We have combined it with both sweet and savory flavors to accent a few familiar dishes, as well as used it directly in some baked delights.
Banana Pancakes with Hazelnut Mascarpone Crème
Mascarpone Cheesecake with Honeyed Pistachios
Thyme Focaccia with Kalamata Mascarpone Spread
Fluffy Mascarpone Omelets with Asparagus and Champagne Onions
Herbed Mascarpone and Beet Napoleons with Walnut Oil
Chilly Orange Drunken “Creamsicle”
Mascarpone Brownies with Honey Chocolate Sauce
Photo: Melissa De Leon Douglass