Traditionally used in desserts, mascarpone is a tangy, smooth cheese that is easy to make and ready to use much sooner than most cheeses.
Flavor-wise, mascarpone resembles a mixture of whipped cream and sour cream. If you add sugar to it, it becomes a creamy delight. Sometimes it’s used in tarts or as a spread on pumpkin or zucchini bread.
My use of mascarpone is more traditional. I make it for tiramisu. This does, however, take a little planning ahead.
Not much has to be done to “make” mascarpone aside from heating some half-and-half and adding a culture. But, it does have to sit at room temperature for 12 hours. Then, for thicker mascarpone like you would need for tiramisu, you need to let the cheese strain for two to three hours in the fridge. Mascarpone does most of the work on its own. I like that in a cheese.
Since tiramisu also takes some time to set up on its own after making, there-in involves the “planning ahead” I referred to. As an aside, here is the recipe I used for tiramisu. I thought it was delicious, but there are a zillion different recipes and opinions out there on how to make this Italian dessert if you want to find your own.
Obviously, I make my cheeses from my family milk cow’s generous milk supply. So, even though you can buy a nice little carton of half-and-half from the dairy section of any grocery store, my raw milk does not automatically turn into half-and-half. I use a ladle to scoop out some cream, and then, as the name implies, I just mix half cream with half milk to make my own half-and-half. However, the recipe below included a side note that half-and-half is supposed to be 1 cup of heavy whipping cream with 3 cups of whole milk. I suppose that would work, too. But this seems more like “one-quarter-and-three-quarters” to me.
I always buy my cheese cultures from New England Cheese Making Supply Co. They last me a long time, because I store them in the freezer. The below mascarpone recipe is from my “Homemade Living” book: Home Dairy with Ashely English. (If Ashely or anyone from the cheese company is reading this, you are welcome for the free advertisement.)
- 4 cups half-and-half or light cream
- ¼ teaspoon (1 packet) direct-set crème fraîche starter culture
- Gradually warm the half-and-half to 86℉ (30℃) in a saucepan over low heat. Use a thermometer to monitor closely. It won’t take long to reach 86℉. Remove from heat.
- Add the starter culture, and stir in with a metal spoon. Put the mixture in a glass or ceramic container, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 12 hours. When the curds have set, they should resemble very thick yogurt or cream.
- At this point, your mascarpone is done unless you desire a firmer consistency, as is necessary for tiramisu. If so, strain the cheese through a colander, large sieve, or drainer that is lined with butter muslin or layered cheesecloth* for two to three hours in the fridge. Make sure to put a bowl under it to catch the liquid.
- Mascarpone takes about half a day to set up in the fridge before use. Use within two to three weeks.
*Depending on your cheesecloth, you may have to layer it many times. You want very tiny holes or too much of your mascarpone will seep through. I’ve found that using a flour sack towel (which is a certain type of thin kitchen rag) works well for straining both mascarpone and ricotta.