Mascarpone originated in Italy and it is a thick, creamy cheese made from cream and citric or acetic acid. If you cannot locate mascarpone cheese in your grocery store, several everyday ingredients can stand-in for the hard to find cheese. You can also make it at home in lieu of purchasing it in the grocery store.
If you are out of mascarpone or simply cannot find it in a grocery store, use a mixture of cream cheese, heavy whipping cream and sour cream instead. Mascarpone is a very rich, full-fat cheese; do not use low-fat ingredients in your substitution. Low-fat cream cheese, sour cream or half and half will result in a poorly tasting concoction that may ruin your recipe. If you're concerned about fat content and calories, use full-fat ingredients and eat a smaller serving.
If you can't find mascarpone cheese in your grocery store, make your own. Mascarpone cheese requires only two ingredients -- whipping cream and lemon juice. For every two cups of whipping cream, use one tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice. Heat the cream in a double boiler until it reaches 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir the lemon juice into the cream and maintain at 190 degrees F for five minutes. The cream will begin to curdle, or separate. Remove it from the heat and cool for 20 minutes. Pour the mixture into a sieve lined with four layers of cheese cloth. Cover the sieve with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. Once strained, the mixture in the sieve is your mascarpone cheese.
Mascarpone cheese is famously used in desserts such as tiramisu, cannoli and cheesecake. It is also used in savory dishes like risotto. Added to alfredo sauce, mascarpone adds richness and depth of flavor. Use it instead of butter in pasta dishes or to thicken sauces. Mascarpone may be used as a topping for fresh fruit or cakes as well.
In areas where mascarpone is readily available, it can be expensive. Substituting the cream cheese, whipping cream and sour cream mixture or making mascarpone cheese yourself is extremely cost-effective. Make a test batch to sample before using it in a recipe for a special occasion or get-together to make sure you are happy with the results.