Mascarpone made an appearance in my kitchen in the late 1970s, when I first tried my hand at making that wonderful layered Italian dessert, Tiramisu. Now, almost forty years later, I wish I had a penny for all the times I have purchased a tub of the rich and creamy curd 'cheese'. If only I had tried making it home back then!
Mascarpone is divine when spooned over freshly made hotcakes or pikelets and served with fruit, per my dish in the photograph above. I love serving it at Christmas as a side to a bowl of new season berries and cherries. I call this my 'Ambrosia Cream'. Simply whip mascarpone with some fresh cream, add a little icing sugar and the pulp and seeds of a passionfruit. It is also lovely whipped with eggs, caster sugar, cream, citrus zest and Cointreau, before being baked in a shortcrust pastry shell. Yum!
In Chalk and Cheese, the cheesemaking bible, Australian expert Will Studd notes that mascarpone originated in Italy in the late sixteenth century and points out that it is not technically a cheese because it is not churned. In fact, the process for making mascarpone is similar to the way in which yoghurt is made, and it is relatively simple. Culture is added to pure cream and milk, then the mixture is gently heated before being incubated. The curd is then hung to drain, which allows it to thicken to a soft 'dollop-able' texture.
Mascarpone can also be made at home by heating cream in a double boiler, before adding lemon juice (or a mild solution of tartaric or citric acid and water) to the pot. It's worth pointing out, though, that mascarpone made with culture is richer in flavour, creamier and smoother in texture, and, thus, spreads more easily too.
At the Cheesemaking Workshop Peter and I attended last year, I bought myself an electric yoghurt maker and have been making my own mascarpone ever since. This technique is inexpensive and almost ridiculously easy. I say almost, because you will need to get your hands on some Thermophilic starter (freeze dried granules of Type T bacteria), and you'll also need a yoghurt maker.
MAKING MASCARPONE IN A YOGHURT MAKER
700mls UHT milk (or fresh milk*)
300mls pure cream
1/10th of a teaspoon of freeze dried granules of Thermophilic lactic culture
Pour the milk and cream into the yoghurt maker. Add a minuscule 1/10th of a teaspoon (only) of freeze dried granules of the T-culture to the liquids and stir well. Pop the lid on, switch on the yoghurt maker and incubate for 16-20 hours. Leaving the cream in the covered container, cool it in the refrigerator for three to four hours.
Next, line a deep bowl with a square of clean cheesecloth or muslin. Spoon the mascarpone cream into the cloth. Gather the four corners of the cloth together and tie in a knot. Now, hang the muslin bag containing the ball of mascarpone cream onto the handle of a wooden spoon, and suspend it over a suitable container (see my image below). Refrigerate for 24-48 hours (noting that the longer you leave it to hang, the firmer it will become).
After this time, spoon the mascarpone into an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator. It will keep this way for about a week. This quantity makes around 500g of mascarpone.
*Important note: If you use fresh milk, heat it to 90 degrees C, then cool it to 40 degrees C before adding it to the yoghurt maker. Adapted from the technique used by The Cheesemaking Workshop's Lyndall Dykes and Susan Meagher.
Tell me dear readers and fellow cooks, have you tried making mascarpone? Do you use it in your cooking?
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.