First things first, what is mascarpone? Mascarpone is an Italian cheese commonly used as the main ingredient in making tiramisu. I’m sure you know what tiramisu is; that delicious coffee and chocolate dessert.
Mascarpone is made from cow’s milk. It has an ivory color and a very smooth texture which makes it a perfect spread. Mascarpone’s smooth texture is a result of its high butterfat content. That’s what makes it so buttery. In terms of flavor, it is milky with a mild sweetness.
Mascarpone is added to both sweet and savory dishes. It gives the dishes a rich texture, thanks to the high butterfat content.
Mascarpone is not hard to find. You can purchase it in grocery stores in the cheese and dairy section. The only problem is that it is more expensive compared to the other types of cheese that you use at home.
With that said, you may want to substitute mascarpone with something that costs less. You may also want to substitute it with something else simply because you don’t have time to rush to the store and get some. Whatever the reason, we’ve got you covered.
Homemade mascarpone is the best substitute for mascarpone. Cream cheese, ricotta cheese, and French crème fraiche also make for great mascarpone substitutes with a few alterations. Before we get into the details of these amazing mascarpone substitutes let’s get to learn a few details about this Italian cheese.
The process of making mascarpone
Commercially, mascarpone is made by adding acid to fresh cream. The acid makes the cream coagulate and form curds. Once these curds form, they cook them over steady heat until the consistency becomes similar to that of crème fraiche.
Most cheeses rely on rennet to solidify the cream. Rennet is an enzyme produced in the stomachs of ruminants. However, mascarpone relies on tartaric acid to thicken it.
If you are making mascarpone at home, you can use lemon juice instead of tartaric acid since you will definitely be making it on a small scale.
Once done, they drain the whey and are left with fresh, soft, creamy, and buttery mascarpone. Since mascarpone is a fresh cheese, they package and distribute it immediately.
Mascarpone vs cream cheese
Mascarpone and cream cheese are only similar in one way; both start with the same base which I heavy cream and acid. Other than that, they are very different. The origin of mascarpone can be traced back to the 16th century in Northern Italy. On the other hand, cream cheese made its debut in the 19th century. Cream cheese is an American cheese used by almost every household in the United States.
In terms of the fat content, mascarpone has 60 to 75% milk fat whereas cream cheese only has 33% milk fat. Therefore, if you want cheese that will ‘melt in your mouth’ you should definitely go for mascarpone.
Mascarpone’s texture is also different from that of cream cheese. Mascarpone has a rich smooth texture whereas cream cheese has a firmer texture. Mascarpone can spread easily but cream cheese does not spread so easily.
The flavor of mascarpone and cream cheese is also slightly different. Mascarpone is slightly sweet while cream cheese has a tangy flavor.
Although the two are different, there are certain recipes that call for a portion of each.
Can you use cream cheese as a substitute for mascarpone?
If you are making recipes that have mascarpone as the main ingredient like ravioli with fontina or a molasses tiramisu, cream cheese may not be a suitable substitute because of the different textures and flavor profiles.
However, you can use cream cheese to make a suitable mascarpone substitute. Here is how.
You will need:
- 12 ounces of softened cream cheese
- ¼ cup of sour cream
- ¼ cup of heavy whipping cream
Place all three ingredients in a bowl and mix them until they are fully combined. The heavy whipping cream will tone down the tanginess of the cream cheese and will also give the cheese a smooth texture that is similar to that of mascarpone.
This is probably the easiest mascarpone substitute you will ever make and it works just as well as mascarpone does.
Mascarpone vs Ricotta cheese
Just like mascarpone, ricotta is an Italian cheese that is made from fresh cow milk. However, the two are produced in different ways.
To make ricotta, producers heat buttermilk with whole milk until the curds form. Once the curds form, they strain them. The curds are what people refer to as ricotta. On the other hand, mascarpone is made by heating heavy cream with acid until it coagulates.
Since the two are made in very different ways, their flavor profiles and texture are a little bit different. Ricotta has a mild milky flavor and a lumpy texture while mascarpone has a mildly sweet flavor and a rich soft texture.
You can substitute mascarpone with ricotta. However, before you use it, you should blend it to make up for the difference in texture. All in all, ricotta makes for a decent substitute for mascarpone.
Mascarpone vs French crème fraiche
Both mascarpone and French crème fraiche have a soft, rich, creamy texture. However, the two are slightly different. French crème fraiche is more acidic compared to mascarpone. Additionally, it has a lower milk fat content.
Luckily, there are a few alterations you can make for French crème fraiche to be a suitable mascarpone substitute. This is what you should do.
Mix an 8-oz. package of crème fraiche with ¼ a cup of granulated sugar. Mix these two ingredients until they are perfectly combined. The sugar will tone down the acid in the French crème fraiche and also add some sweetness to it. The end result would be a very good substitute for mascarpone.
Making your own mascarpone at home
Making mascarpone at home is probably not as hard as you imagine. You just need a few ingredients, time, and a little bit of patience.
In my opinion, it is richer compared to the store bought mascarpone. Besides, you have control over all the ingredients so you can make it according to your preference.
You will need:
- Deep-fry thermometer
- Large bowl
- Fine-mesh strainer
- 2 cups of heavy cream
- Lemon juice
- To begin, pour two cups of heavy cream into a saucepan and warm over low heat. Fit the thermometer in the pan and monitor the temperature.
- Once the temperature gets to 185°F, add a tablespoon of lemon juice to the heavy cream.
- Let the mixture cook at 185°F for five minutes. At this point, keep monitoring the temperature and ensure that it is at 185°F or at least close to 185°F.
- After five minutes, remove the mixture from heat and set it aside for an hour. The mixture will thicken on its own.
- On a fine mesh strainer, line a double layer of cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Pour the thickened mixture over the cheesecloth and let it sieve through.
- Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight.
- Once refrigerated, use a strainer to get rid of any liquid left in the bowl. Transfer the mascarpone into an airtight container and refrigerate it until you are ready to use it. Homemade mascarpone can stay fresh for up to three days.
How to store mascarpone
Mascarpone has a very short shelf life. Store bought mascarpone generally lasts for seven days. When buying mascarpone, always check for the used by date so that you buy one that will last for at least seven days.
Mascarpone should always be refrigerated. Once you open the container, close the lid tightly and store the unused portion in the refrigerator.
How do you know when mascarpone has gone bad?
The first sign that your mascarpone is no longer safe to consume is when molds grow inside the container. Once molds grow, there is no way you can salvage the mascarpone. Just discard it.
If there are no molds but the aroma is off, the mascarpone is no longer safe to consume. The other indication is that your mascarpone has gone bad is when its color changes. Mascarpone is normally ivory in color. If it becomes brownish, you should throw it out.
Can you freeze mascarpone?
Yes, you can freeze mascarpone for a few months. However, I do not recommend freezing because freezing changes the texture of the mascarpone. When you defrost it, it will not have a texture similar to fresh mascarpone.
As we have discussed, the only sure substitute for mascarpone is the homemade mascarpone. With the other substitutes like ricotta, French crème fraiche, and cream cheese you need to make some alterations for them to have a flavor and texture that is similar to that of mascarpone.
All in all, if you need something to use as a substitute they will work just fine. Just make sure you follow the instructions so that you achieve a texture and flavor similar to that of mascarpone.
Try using these substitutes and let me know how your dishes turn out.