What Is Mascarpone?

Even if you'd never heard of the fresh, creamy Italian cheese known as mascarpone, you've most likely eaten it. It's one of the primary ingredients in the classic Italian dessert tiramisu, and can also be found in some pasta dishes and risottos. But what is it, exactly?

Like ricotta, mascarpone is made by coagulating cream with lemon juice or vinegar, but the similarities stop there. Instead of having a lumpy texture like ricotta, it's smooth and creamy, and mascarpone is also made from the curd, whereas ricotta is made from the whey. After the milk curdles, the whey is drained away and the resulting curd is a fresh, creamy cheese that's incredibly versatile.

Mascarpone can be found in just about every supermarket dairy case these days, and can be used in thousands of dishes. We particularly enjoy the way it brightens up this hearty breakfast of stuffed French toast with mascarpone and chocolate, this classic dessert of red wine poached pears with mascarpone cream, this ravioli filled with Parmigiano-Reggiano, ricotta, and mascarpone, and grilled peaches with sweet mint mascarpone.