Mascarpone originated around 1600 in Lombardy of North Italy Southwest of Milan. Some say the name came from “mas que bueno” (Spanish for “more than good”) when the Spanish ruled Italy. It is made from light cream (~25% butterfat) which has been heated and thickened by the addition of tartaric acid to product a rich creamy product which is spreadable. By the way, as we heard it pronounced in Italy, a friend of Italian descent urged me to point out that the correct Italian pronunciation is “mahs-car-PO-nay.”
I have learned with the assistance of readers of these pages, that tartaric acid is found in the sediment of fermented wine along with settled yeast. The word tartar may come from the Arabic word durd meaning dregs. It was also possibly harvested off the sides of wine kegs, formed as an encrustation.
Mascarpone can be used alone or with sugar added. Perhaps it is most famous as an ingredient in tiramisu, the Italian “rocket fuel” coffee-flavored cake. It is often used in place of butter to thicken and enrich rissoti.
- One quart of “light cream,” 25% butterfat (900 mL)
Light cream can range between 18 and 30% butterfat. For mascarpone, it should contain 25% butterfat. I mix 16 oz heavy cream with 16 oz half and half.
- 1/4 teaspoon tartaric acid
Or 1/2 tsp Acid Blend from L.D. Carlson, available at wine making supply houses or 2 Tbl lemon juice.
- Stainless steel double boiler with lid
- Thermometer, reading in the 185 F or 85 C range
- Sterile handkerchief sterilized by boiling and hanging to dry thoroughly
- 1 quart bowl to catch the whey
I have received an email from Fil and Pat in Quebec which reports that mascarpone was originally made with lemon juice. I now doubt the authenticity of this, but have wondered where ancient Italians would have gotten tartaric acid… (See intro above.) I have calculated that 1/4 teaspoonful of tartaric acid should be equivalent to approximately 2 tablespoonfuls (30 mL) of lemon juice. Fil and Pat (and others) report back that 2 Tbl in a quart of 18% butterfat cream made perfect mascarpone! Yea.