Even food professionals mispronounce this delicacy’s name—saying it as though the “r” precedes the “c”—so just being able to pronounce the word “mascarpone” (mah-skar-POH-nay) catapults you to a rare group of foodies.
Mascarpone is a double or triple cream cheese that’s a specialty of Lombard, the region surrounding Milan, Italy. As with most things Italian, it’s surrounded by romance. Allegedly, pampered cows are fed fresh flowers and herbs to produce a uniquely luscious milk. Many food historians insist that the word is derived from a Spanish official’s emphatic proclamation that the cheese was mas que bueno (better than good), although there are several more plausible explanations.
Mascarpone is lighter and less tart than American-style cream cheese with a mild flavor and decadent mouth feel, somewhere at the junction of creme fraiche and sweet butter. It’s a key ingredient in tiramisu, the espresso-spiked dessert. It’s a frequent addition to cheesecakes and zabaglione (an airy custard used to top fresh berries), and it makes a delicious stuffing for dates and figs. Mascarpone has savory uses as well. In its native region, it’s mixed with anchovies and mustard as a spread for bread and is used to enrich risottos in place of butter or other cheeses.
While mascarpone is available in mainstream groceries, it doesn’t come cheap. In a pinch, economize with this quick substitute: blend 6 ounces of American-style cream cheese with 3 tablespoons whipping cream and 2 tablespoons sour cream. Substitute for 8 ounces mascarpone.
—By Jo Marshall, Creator of Cookcabulary