July 17, 2009
Home Creamery: Mascarpone
by Gareth Mark
Mascarpone, the queen of dessert cheeses. At least it is when it's freshly made. The mascarpone available in most stores is a little rubbery and a bit too citrusy. The real thing has a texture like whipped cream about to turn to butter and an ethereal, ever-so-slightly tart flavor.
To make mascarpone you'll need tartaric acid. In spite of what you might have read, cream of tartar is not tartaric acid; rather, it's a derivative of tartaric acid. You cannot subsitute one for the other with any hope of success. In the picture to the right, the powdery cream of tartar is on the left, and the crystaline tartaric acid is on the right.
You'll also need a double boiler setup of some sort, or you could just use two pans like I did. A thermometer is mandatory. You'll need to line a stainless steel colander with a double layer of butter muslin to finish the cheese. Set the colander into a bowl to catch the whey.
Heat one quart/liter of half-and-half or cream to 185°F/85°C. Then add ¼ teaspoon/1.25mL tartaric acid and stir until the dairy thickens. It should be thick enough to be reminiscent of cream of wheat or farina, and the spoon or whisk you're stirring with should leave tracks behind. It takes a good five minutes or so to coagulate, so have some patience.
When the dairy is thickened, pour it into the muslin-lined colander and let it drain for about an hour at room temperature. Carefully spoon the cheese into a container, cover, and refrigerate overnight; in a dessert emergency, you can use it once it's chilled a couple of hours. It will keep in the refrigerator up to two weeks, not that you'll have any around that long.
Mascarpone has many uses: cannoli, tiramisu, cheesecake, or it can be served plain. I used it to make the dessert pictured above, which has quartered strawberries in mint simple syrup on the bottom, mascarpone, and Rainier cherries on top. The dollop on top that looks like whipped cream? More mascarpone. Delicious.