Stracchino cheese, also known as crescenza, is an Italian regional cheese that isn't especially well known in the United States. There are a few domestic producers, so cheese lovers are able to seek out and enjoy its delicate, creamy, buttery deliciousness even without traveling to Italy. If you're hooked on stracchino cheese or want to make a recipe that calls for it but are unable to find the real thing, there are several suitable stracchino substitutes to consider. Brie is one option, but it is quite dissimilar in some key characteristics. Several other cheeses are more like stracchino in flavor and texture, but the choice of a stracchino substitute ultimately comes down to personal preference.
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What Is Stracchino Cheese?
Stracchino cheese gets its name from the Italian word "stracca," which means tired. This refers to dairy cows being tired due to seasonally trekking from pasture to pasture in the steep Italian Alps and therefore yielding a richer, fattier, slightly more acidic milk than usual. This prized milk becomes stracchino cheese, giving it a characteristic mild, sweet flavor and creamy richness. Stracchino, also known as crescenza cheese, is typically described as bright and buttery with a gentle tang.
Stracchino is a rindless, fresh, soft cheese with a very short shelf life, which is why it's almost never imported to the U.S. from Italy. The Wisconsin cheesemaker BelGioioso produces a crescenza-stracchino year round, which is modeled after Italian stracchino. Various small-scale cheese producers also create their own versions of stracchino, so it is sometimes available by direct order, at farmers' markets or artisanal markets. Try it on a cheese plate, spread onto bread or crackers, in sandwiches, on pizza, melted into pasta or baked into focaccia.
Is Brie a Good Stracchino Substitute?
Brie, a cheese originating in France but now produced all over the world, is a soft-ripened cow's milk cheese with a bloomy rind. It's mild with a nutty, tangy flavor that gets stronger with age. Unlike stracchino, brie has a rind that is edible. Its flavor and aroma are quite a bit stronger than stracchino. They are both soft but fall into different categories, with brie considered a soft-ripened cheese and stracchino a fresh, soft cheese. This means that brie would not take the place of stracchino on a cheese plate, but it is a delicious choice nonetheless.
A young, ripe brie shares some key characteristics with stracchino, making it a suitable stracchino substitute. Both are made from cow's milk and are fairly mild. A very ripe brie can be spreadable, and without its rind, it's similar in texture to stracchino, but a firmer brie is better sliced than spread. Both cheeses melt well, making them both appropriate for pizzas, pasta dishes, risottos and other dishes when melting is desired. In general, if you're not seeking a super-close replica of stracchino flavorwise, a young, ripe brie is a decent choice.
Other Cheeses Similar to Stracchino
One reason brie is an imperfect stracchino substitute is that it's not a fresh, soft cheese. Other cheeses in the fresh, soft category that share stracchino's mild, milky flavor and aroma include fresh mozzarella, ricotta and burrata. These cheeses are also Italian in origin, so they're fitting choices to replace stracchino when you're preparing an Italian-inspired dish.
Other fresh, soft cheeses that might work depending on the particular application include cream cheese, fromage frais, cottage cheese and mascarpone. These cheeses share stracchino's mild flavor but differ quite a bit in texture. Cream cheese is denser, cottage cheese is characteristically lumpy and mascarpone is much richer than stracchino. Queso blanco, the fresh, white Mexican cheese often available in the U.S. might seem similar, but it is much too dry and crumbly to be a good stracchino substitute. It also doesn't melt.