Turns out happy cows really do make happy cheese—in Italy at least.
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
For the Pudding Hollow Contest in 2006, Peter Beck of Hawley, Mass., created a rich and creamy mascarpone pudding covered with lemon curd.
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