How Are Mascarpone And Cream Cheese Different?

Stating the obvious here: Cheese is superbly delicious in pretty much every form. Whether it's thinly sliced for sandwiches, shredded for salads, cubed for charcuterie boards, grated and melted onto pizzas, shaped into curds, strings, or ropes for easy snacking, you name it — cheese is often the star of a dish. But when cheese is soft, creamy, and spreadable in its natural state, it delivers an entirely new taste experience. Many soft cheeses, including Camembert and Brie, for example, are frequently paired with crispy crackers and crunchy fruits and vegetables to create a balanced texture of firm vs. silky.

When you think of cream cheese, one of the most ubiquitous varieties of soft cheese, it's hard not to envision it generously smeared onto a fluffy, toasted bagel or incorporated into a succulent cheesecake or a savory bean dip. And then, there's its elegant cousin: mascarpone. This sweet Italian cheese is a traditional ingredient whipped into desserts such as tiramisu, tarts, and parfaits. Since they look, feel, and taste quite similar, these two types of cheese are commonly seen as one and the same. However, there are some key differences between them that you should know about.

What's the difference between mascarpone and cream cheese?

First, let's start with countries of origin. Mascarpone comes from the Lombardy region of Italy during the Middle ages (via Delishably), and cream cheese was invented by a farmer in upstate New York around 1872 (via Mashable). Of course, mascarpone and cream cheese have clear resemblances. Mascarpone is a double- or triple-creamed cheese crafted from fresh cow's milk. Cream cheese is a soft, unripened cheese that's also made from pasteurized cow's milk.

Perhaps the most significant difference between mascarpone and cream cheese is the amount of milk fat in each. According to the Food and Drug Administration's official guidelines, cream cheese must contain at least 33% milk fat and a maximum of 55% moisture by weight (via The Old Farmer's Almanac). On the other hand, mascarpone is made with whole cream, giving it a much higher fat content. Because of this, mascarpone boasts a richer, creamier taste and texture, making it a luxurious element for desserts, soups, and sauces, according to Crave Brothers Farmstead. Cream cheese possesses a brighter, more acidic flavor (via Spoon University).

Whichever one you choose — classic Italian mascarpone or all-American cream cheese — they both add an irresistible, zesty pop of flavor to any food they touch.