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Cheese of the Month - July 2016

Mascarpone makers aim to spread appeal beyond dessert

Editor’s note: “Cheese of the Month” is Cheese Market News’ exclusive profile series exploring various cheese types. Each month, CMN highlights a different cheese in this feature, giving our readers a comprehensive look at production, marketing, sales and in-depth aspects of each profiled cheese type. Please read on to learn about this month’s featured cheese: Mascarpone.

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. — Mascarpone, a fresh and slightly-sweet soft cheese made from coagulated cream, traditionally was made only for special occasions and specific times of the year.

“Years ago in Italy, Mascarpone was only made in the winter. There was not a lot of refrigeration, and they had to keep the cheese cold. It was really consumed in the northern cities, mostly around Christmastime with Pannetone or in Tiramisu,” says Errico Auricchio, president of BelGioioso Cheese Inc., Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Mascarpone was first introduced in Italy in the late 1800s as a gift back to the farmers for their milk each year around Christmastime, according to Fred Wolff, production manager for Schuman Cheese’s Cello Mascarpone, Turtle Lake, Wisconsin.

“The Italians loved the basic Mascarpone flavor and used it to make the all-famous Tiramisu that became instantly popular,” he says. “Mascarpone has grown in Italy to be a common staple of the household to spread on bagels, toast, fruits and many other fine desserts. Mascarpone is still relatively new to many in the United States but rapidly growing in popularity with many applications.”

Mascarpone has seen growth in the U.S. retail market over the past several years, though usage still is small compared to other cheese varieties. Over the last year, 2.37 million pounds of Mascarpone were sold at retail, up 12.4 percent from a year ago, according to IRI data provided by Dairy Management Inc. (52 weeks ending June 12, U.S. multi outlet plus convenience).

From 2010-2015, Mascarpone had a compound annual growth rate of 5.4 percent. However, the IRI data shows that only 1.8 percent of U.S. households buy Mascarpone, and the average buyer makes only 1.5 trips to the store each year for the cheese.

• Varied applications

One way companies are working to expand sales of Mascarpone is through promoting it as an everyday item like butter, not just as an ingredient for specialty desserts.

“Dessert is its main application, but Mascarpone is also versatile in both sweet and savory recipes,” Auricchio says. “Mascarpone is a lighter version of butter, with half the calories ... we promote it as a substitute for butter. The best way to use it its to spread on bread; my favorite is with jam for breakfast.”

In fact, BelGioioso has an ongoing campaign, “50 Ways to leave your Butter,” which suggests 50 different uses for its Mascarpone — from melting on pancakes, to adding to pasta sauces, to serving with cookies or fresh fruit. The company also recently introduced 3-ounce single-serve Mini Mascarpone cups designed for convenience and everyday use.

“Mascarpone is a delicious, all-natural spreadable cheese, and consumers are tasting and seeing it more often in recipes and want to try it themselves,” says Jamie Wichlacz, marketing public relations manager, BelGioioso Cheese Inc. “Our new Mini Mascarpone cups are the perfect trial size, and consumers are enjoying its light, appealing flavor as a healthy spread.”

Mascarpone has become more popular year-round as people are discovering new applications, agrees Debbie Crave, vice president of Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, Wisconsin.

“People are talking about it. I used to notice a spike in Mascarpone for sure at Christmas and Easter, during the holidays,” Crave says. “But boy oh boy, do I think it is becoming more mainstream.”

Crave notes that a restaurant in Waterloo uses the company’s Mascarpone on a sweet apple pizza, while the local Catholic school serves it on top of vanilla wafers as a snack for its students. Savory applications also recently have gained traction.

“In a recipe contest, we had a fig, sweet onion, candied bacon and Mascarpone pizza that’s just to die for,” Crave says, adding that the company commonly serves this savory pizza at its events. “It’s interesting to see people becoming more comfortable with it and trying different things. In restaurants, chefs are using it, and people go home and try it.”

In restaurants, Mascarpone most consistently appears on menus in full-service Italian restaurants, but it also is making limited appearances on some independent Italian quick service and fast casual category restaurant and food truck menus, according to IRI data from Dairy Management Inc. Approximately 65 percent of total Mascarpone mentions on menus are dessert items, particularly Tiramisu, data from the second quarter of this year show. However, Mascarpone also appears on the savory side in entrees and appetizer menu items, from risottos and pasta dishes to flatbread and pizza, where it often is paired with seafood or artichoke ingredients.

“Originally, Mascarpone was used in foodservice, and thanks to the savoir-faire of Italian restaurants, consumers were inspired to reproduce the meals they had tried in restaurants at home,” says Elena Umanskaya, vice president of marketing, Lactalis American Group Inc., Buffalo, New York, which offers both imported and domestic varieties of Galbani Mascarpone.

Lactalis USA suggests some applications of Mascarpone can include adding richness to main courses such as quiche, pasta, meat or fish plates, or using it as a spread for sandwiches, preferably together with salmon, olives or other condiments.

Wolff notes that Schuman Cheese’s teams experiment using Mascarpone in a variety of different applications.

“It has been a wonderful journey from perfecting the traditional Tiramisu and other sweet desserts to creating very rich soups, sauces and dips, all the way to the most flavorful salad dressings,” Wolff says.

“Our customers can find themselves on that same journey using our Cello Mascarpone and getting creative to expand their families’ experiences with food.”

• Fresh quality, authentic taste

The simple ingredients used in Mascarpone have not changed much over the last century, though the process has been updated to modern standards.

“In the old days, you added citric acid to cream and put it on a cloth to drain the excess whey to make Mascarpone. Now we remove the whey with ultrafiltration, which removes whey in a sanitary environment so the cheese lasts 3-4 months,” Auricchio says, explaining that Mascarpone actually is closer to butter than cheese as it doesn’t use any rennet.

Wichlacz adds that BelGioioso makes its Mascarpone with the cream it skims off of fresh milk the company receives each day.

“From when we receive the milk to how quickly this product is made, it really stands out as one of the freshest available, made the same day the milk is received,” she says.

Crave Brothers’ Mascarpone also is made from milk from the company’s farm that is “hours old,” and it contains no fillers or sugar.

“All it is is sweet cream acidified — cooked sweet cream,” Crave says. “A visitor asked me, ‘do you add sugar?’ No, those are natural milk sugars.”

Mascarpone’s simplicity adds to its appeal, especially to consumers looking for clean labels and natural foods. Lactalis American Group says its Galbani Mascarpone aligns with consumers’ desire for a natural, authentic product.

“There is an undeniable growing interest in unprocessed cheese and its high quality ingredients, affordability and variety,” Umanskaya says. “Galbani Mascarpone, domestic and imported, is addressing these concerns: Galbani Mascarpone is all-natural and perfectly represents the Italian tradition.”

BelGioioso also believes Mascarpone can act as an all-natural alternative to other foods or ingredients.

“Consumers are pushing the trend of clean ingredients with no additives, and our Mascarpone has always been made with three ingredients and no preservatives,” Wichlacz says. “It’s a delicate cheese, so we educate, providing suggestions for storage and usage. Consumers love that it tastes indulgent without the guilt and tell us that Mascarpone is becoming a staple in their kitchens.”

Some companies offer different varieties of Mascarpone aimed at different home or foodservice use. In addition to its classic version, BelGioioso offers Crema di Mascarpone, with a more whipped texture, preferred by some foodservice professionals, as well as a Tiramisu-flavored Mascarpone that can be used as a ready-made frosting or dessert spread.

Lactalis USA offers Galbani Mascarpone Fresca, made in the United States, and Galbani Imported Mascarpone, made in Italy. Galbani Mascarpone Fresca contains cream, milk and nonfat milk, while Galbani Imported Mascarpone contains just cream and milk. A double concentration process is used with Galbani Imported Mascarpone, giving it more creaminess, a cooked milk taste and a special straw color.

The company currently is in the process of revamping all of its packaging for Galbani Imported Mascarpone to reinforce the Italian tradition and authenticity.

“Galbani is Italy’s No. 1 cheese brand, and with more than 130 years of craftsmanship, Galbani has managed to introduce to American consumers the real taste of Italy,” Umanskaya says. “Tradition, authenticity and freshness are the key differentiation elements of Mascarpone from our competitors.”

Schuman Cheese offers both Rich and Creamy Mascarpone, its most popular variety with a dairy fresh flavor, sweet notes and hint of nutty finish, as well as Thick and Smooth Mascarpone, which has a dairy fresh flavor and more of a neutral sweetness.

“We find this works well in industrial applications for pasta fill and dessert applications, where the customer wants the Mascarpone to perform and carry the dairy notes but allow their main dessert flavor to be the highlight of the final product,” Wolff says of the Thick and Smooth variety. “This product offers some customers in our global market a delightful difference of fresh dairy taste in Mascarpone.”

Schuman Cheese also recently introduced a new 8-ounce Mascarpone cup that has been popular among retail consumers, and it has redesigned all of its Cello brand packaging with a cleaner, more contemporary look.

Wolff says demand for Cello Mascarpone is rapidly growing in both foodservice and retail areas to make high-end desserts and premium pasta sauces.

“Trial is a key tactic in our marketing strategy, because we truly do believe that our products have distinct flavors and textures, and there is no better way to communicate this than to have consumers experience it for themselves,” he says. “Top chefs and great cooks around the world are finding how this versatile product can quickly become their secret ingredient.”

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