Mascarpont is an Italian cream cheese, with just a hint of cheese flavor. Creamier than fresh butter, the Spaniards referred to the treat as “mas que bueno,” “better than good.” It’s most frequently an ingredient in tiramisu and a delight straight from a spoon. It became a creation over 400 years ago in the Lombardy region of northern Italy in the foothills of the Swiss Alps. To ensure rich cream from their milk, farmers nurtured their cheese-producing cows by feeding them a special diet of natural herbs, sweet grasses and fragrant wild flowers.
This triple-cream cheese is in the rich league of cream cheese, heavy whipping cream, crème fraiche and English clotted cream. Unlike most cheeses, ivory-colored mascarpone must be treated like a fresh dairy item. This means paying close attention to its “Use by” date.
This delicate aspect of mascarpone is, no doubt, the reason little is known of it in the U.S. until recently, for immigrants brought no perishable foods with them. Now, dairy farmers in Vermont and Wisconsin are producing a competitive product which tends to be less expensive and easier to find. Look for it in larger supermarkets and Italian delis’ refrigerated section for fine cheeses.
One of a few prized cheeses, mascarpone is an artisan cheese, and such cheeses are made all over the world from the milks of goats, cows, sheep, and buffalo. Consistencies range from very soft, soft, semi-soft, semi-hard to hard. Flavor ranges from mild, to sharp. Other artisan cheese by-products of cow’s milk are Fromage Blanc and Quark. Artisan cheeses from goat’s milk are Bonne-Bouche, Chevrier, Impastata, Feta and Fontina. For an indepth look at artisan cheeses visit: http://www.cowgirlcreamery.com/artisaninfo.html.
In the nutrition department, mascarpone is a loser with fat as much as 70 to 75%, just a little less than pure butter. It registers 453 calories for each 100 grams (3-1/2 oz.). It is also low in protein. However, it is a treat, not a staple of daily life. Plus, it’s the Holidays!
Here are some ways you can use mascarpone besides in tiramisu.
- Mascarpone’s delicate flavor needs little embellishment other than some plain fruit or berries
- Include the cheese in dips, fillings, frostings, spreads and by itself melted as a sauce.
- Creamy embellishment to caviar and smoked fish
- For Gorgonzola pasta sauce, combine heavy cream, Gorgonzola and mascarpone cheese.
- Zabaglione, in French sabayon, is better with it; it’s the “magic” in tiramisu, exceptional cheesecake.
- Over Dungeness crab in tiny raviolis.
- Flavor enhancers: sprinkle with cocoa, sweetener, cinnamon, finely ground coffee beans or grated chocolate.
- As a Mediterranean hor d’oeuvres blend mascarpone with anchovies, mustard and herbs.
- Use as a dressing for a fresh fig, prosciuto and arugula salad.
- Use instead of butter to thicken and enrich rissoto.