Mascarpone. How cheesy.

Welcome, class, to today’s Fresh Pick: MASCARPONE

Hailing from Italy’s Lombardy region, mascarpone [mas-kahr-POH-nay] is a buttery-rich double- to triple-cream cheese made from cow’s milk. It is ivory-colored, soft and delicate, and ranges in texture from that of a light clotted cream to that of room-temperature butter. It’s versatile enough to be blended with other flavors and is sometimes sold sweetened with fruit. In Italy’s Friuli region, a favorite blend is mascarpone mixed with anchovies, mustard and spices (so not Dina’s favorite blend). But in truth, this delicately flavored cheese needs little embellishment other than being topped with fruit.

In processing, the cow’s milk is allowed to stand, and after rising naturally to the milk surface, the cream is skimmed off, poured into metal containers, and heated in a double boiler. Once it reaches 185 degrees Fahrenheit (85 Celcius), tartaric acid blended in water is added; the mixture thickens shortly, becoming very dense. Afterward, It is allowed to rest refrigerated for twelve hours in special containers, where the whey separates. The mascarpone (minus the whey) is placed in cloth bags and allowed to further purge its whey for 24 additional hours.

If mascarpone isn’t available at your neighborhood supermarket, check with gourmet shops, large chain grocery store delicatessens, cheese shops, or Italian delicatessens and markets.

For some great recipes, click here or here or try your hand at tiramisu, a fancy favorite dessert:

8 eggs, separated
1/3 c sugar
i lb mascarpone cheese
1 c heavy cream
2 c brewed espresso coffee, cooled
2/3 c brandy or other sweet liqueur
30 lady finger cookies
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, grated
2 Tbsp Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted, for garnish

Mix the sugar into the egg yolks, blending well. Add a little mascarpone at a time to the egg yolk mixture, and mix until smooth. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Set this aside as well.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the beaten egg whites. Spread about 1/3 of the cream mixture of a 4-6 quart glass baking dish or serving bowl.

Place expresso coffee in a large mixing bowl, and combine with the brandy. Dip a lady finger into the expresso, lay it in baking dish on cream mixture. Top with grated chocolate. Continue in this manner, laying lady fingers side by side to cover the bottom. Place another 1/3 of cream mixture on top of soaked lady fingers. Cover this with another layer of expresso-soaked lady fingers and top with remaining cream mixture and grated chocolate. Dust final layer with grated chocolate and cocoa powder.

Chill 2 hours to set.

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