The name Mascarpone derives from the Lombardy dialectal term “mascherpa”, used to indicate a sub-product extracted from the whey in the making of “stracchino” cheese. In the past, as it was a fresh product without any type of ageing, it was only made in the winter, as the cold helped to keep it, reducing the risk of fermentations and microbial contamination.
A typical Milanese saying is linked with mascarpone: “restà cumpagn de quel de la mascherpa” which means to be dumbfounded. Once a boy, who had been sent to take the fresh cheese to the market in Milan, when he arrived in the city he realized that the basket was completely empty as the heat had melted the cheese.
Mascarpone – Its production, characteristic of the tradition of Lodi, Como and Lecco, is still concentrated in Lombardy. In the traditional production process, the top cream obtained from the milk by surfacing or centrifugation, is heated in a bain-marie to 90° C.
The addition of an acid coagulant caused the formation of a coagulated cream in a few minutes which was then decanted on to muslin laid in moulds to help drain off the whey. The first phase of draining was completed after about 8 hours and the muslin containing the Mascarpone was wrapped up to form bundles which were transferred into a cool place and finally hung up to complete the separation of the whey. After about 24-48 hours, the Mascarpone became “detached” from the muslin and was ready to be packaged or, more traditionally, sold loose. Today, the need to have Mascarpone all year round and to increase its storability so that it can be sold outside its area of origin as well, has made it necessary to introduce a series of modifications to the production method with, as one of the aims, respecting the regulations on storage. In the first place, the milk cream must be treated thermally at 121° C for 20 minutes and only subsequently the coagulation is induced by using acid coagulating agents. The product that is obtained is then concentrated through techniques of ultra-filtration which, as well as accelerating the time required to drain off the whey and allow the hot packaging of the Mascarpone, reduces to zero the classic risks of microbial contamination of the product during the draining phase and cold packaging.
Mascarpone is an even, consistent white cream, which is well blended and with a typically buttery flavour. It must be kept in the refrigerator but never at temperatures below 0° C ,in order to avoid breaking up the water-fat emulsion. It is the main ingredient in the preparation of the most famous Italian dessert in the world: Tiramisù.