In the middle of making tiramisu and suddenly realize you're out of mascarpone cheese? Find out what mascarpone cheese substitute will really work—and what's merely an Internet myth.

By Kelly Vaughan
December 26, 2018
Getty Images

Mascarpone cheese is a silky, spreadable Italian cheese that is a main ingredient in tiramisu, as well as other sweet and savory dishes. But is there a good mascarpone cheese substitute? While mascarpone is available in nearly all commercial and specialty grocery stores, it’s relatively pricey (approximately $8 for a 16-oz. package). Whether you don’t have time to run out to the store, can’t find it in your neighborhood market, or want to save a few dollars, we’ve got you covered. Below are the best and easiest mascarpone cheese substitutes.

Are Mascarpone Cheese and Cream Cheese the Same Thing?

While both mascarpone cheese and cream cheese start with the same base—heavy cream and an acid—there are a few key differences between the two. Mascarpone cheese originated in northern Italy in the late 16th century while cream cheese is a 19th century dairy staple from the United States. Cream cheese has a much lower fat content than mascarpone; the USDA requires that cream cheese contains at least 33% milk fat, which is the standard most producers stick to. Mascarpone cheese generally contains 60 to 75% milk fat. The significant difference in fat content results in two different textures and flavor profiles.

Can I Use Cream Cheese Instead of Mascarpone?

In recipes that require mascarpone (like Molasses Tiramisu and Ravioli with Fontina and Walnut Sauce), a quick swap out of cream cheese for mascarpone won’t work well. However, you can mimic the same silky, decadent consistency of mascarpone with an easy DIY recipe that makes a good mascarpone cheese substitute. To make it, mix together 12 ounces of room temperature cream cheese (1½ blocks) with ¼ cup of heavy whipping cream and ¼ cup of sour cream until combined. The whipping cream will cut some of the tanginess of cream cheese while mimicking mascarpone's smooth, velvety texture.

Is Mascarpone Cheese Similar to Ricotta Cheese?

Both are made from fresh milk, both are Italian cheeses, and both are delicious— so they must be the same, right? Not quite. Mascarpone cheese is made by heating heavy cream with acid until it has coagulated. Ricotta is made by heating whole milk and buttermilk together until hundreds of small curds form—the curds, when strained, become ricotta. The unique processes result in two very different products— mascarpone is rich, decadent, and super spreadable cheese with a slight tang. Ricotta, on the other hand, has a lumpy, soft texture and mild, milky flavor.

How Do Mascarpone and Crème Fraiche Differ?

Mascarpone and crème fraiche, a French cultured cream, share a rich, creamy consistency. However, crème fraiche is more acidic and has a 30% fat content (compared to 60 to 75% fat content found in mascarpone), which results in a lighter, thinner cream.

Turn crème fraiche into mascarpone by mixing together one, 8-oz. package of crème fraiche and ¼ cup of granulated sugar. The added sweetness makes the flavor of this substitute taste like the real deal.

How to Make Mascarpone Cheese

To make 16 ounces of mascarpone cheese, begin by fitting a small saucepan with a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Add 2 cups  heavy cream to saucepan and warm over low heat. Once the cream reaches 185°F, turn down the heat and add one tablespoon fresh lemon juice. Let the mixture cook at 185°F, watching carefully and adjusting heat to keep it as close to 185°F as possible, 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Set aside for one hour and the mixture will slowly thicken. Line a fine-mesh strainer with a double layer of cheese cloth and set over a large bowl. Pour thickened cream mixture through cheese cloth. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Discard any liquid in bowl and transfer mascarpone in strainer to an airtight container. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 3 days.