Whether slathered on a bagel, scooped onto cold soups or stuffed into cannoli, mascarpone cheese is a creamy addition to both sweet and savory dishes. Also known as Italian cream cheese, it is considered a fresh cheese, with liquid drained off from curdled cow's cream. However, the cheese is also known as double or triple cream, displaying just how high in fat it is. For those watching their fat intake, low-fat alternatives provide the same creaminess without using the product itself.
Mascarpone is mostly known outside of Italy for its integral part in tiramisu layers, adding the rich creamy texture that offsets the soaked ladyfingers. However, in its country of origin, it is used in a variety of dishes, from pasta sauces to sweet dips to soups. It can also be eaten on its own or scooped onto fruit for a simple dessert. However, it is always eaten fresh, as the cheese can spoil quickly and separates when frozen.
Low-Fat Cream Cheese
Part of the cream cheese family, a simple alternative to mascarpone is low-fat cream cheese. It does not contain the same amount of creaminess as the fresh Italian cheese, but nor does it contain the same levels of fat. If desiring to achieve a slightly similar texture, whip the cream cheese with buttermilk and low-fat margarine until blended. This works best in dessert recipes where mascarpone is called for, especially in baking, as it holds up well to heat.
Created by allowing excess moisture to drip out of curdled milk, Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier than the standard variety. The full fat version is still less than half the fat of regular mascarpone and can be used in a similar manner for savory dishes, such as sauces or soups. Use the yogurt at the end of the recipe, however, to prevent an undesirable curdling due to the heat.
Another Italian fresh cheese, ricotta is made from milk instead of cream, creating a similar cheese that is lower in fat than mascarpone. To add the fluffy texture that is found in the fuller-fat cheese, however, try blending the ricotta for a short time until it becomes airier in texture. Use the fluffed ricotta in any recipe that calls for mascarpone.