Mascarpone vs. Ricotta Cheese: Differences Explained

Mascarpone and Ricotta are both Italian kinds of cheese with a reputation for being delicious soft cheeses. 

The fact that they are both Italian and types of soft cheese can often lead to confusion about the differences between them.

In this article, we will look at ricotta and mascarpone in detail. We’ll compare the differences so you know everything you might want to know.

What is Mascarpone?

Mascarpone is a soft cheese from Italy. It is formally recognized as a Cow’s cheese and is milk-white in color. 

Originating in the Lombardy region of Italy, it is used in cheesecakes, tiramisu, and other recipes. You can use mascarpone to thicken up chicken marsala, mix it into pasta or scrambled eggs, and more.

Mascarpone is thick and smooth, like cream cheese and ricotta cheese. However, it has a sweeter flavor with a little more acidity than a lot of similar cheeses and dairy products that it is compared to.

What is Ricotta?

Ricotta is another soft Italian cheese made from sheep, cow, goat, or buffalo milk. Critically, this cheese is made from remaining milk leftover from the production of other whey cheese.

Ricotta is also most often used in many Italian desserts, such as cannoli, cheesecake, and similar. You can also use ricotta as a stuffing cheese for cannelloni, ravioli, and other types of pasta.

Ricotta is smooth with a thick texture and has a creamy mild taste. It is low in salt and therefore is used in many sweet dishes.

Sometimes ricotta is dried in the oven or air-cured to make it hard and suitable for grating.

Mascarpone vs Ricotta: Compared

CategoryRicottaMascarpone
OriginItalyItaly
TypeSoft cheeseSoft cheese
FlavorMildly sweet and creamySweet and tangy
TextureSoft but a little harderSmooth like cream
AppearanceMilk-white in colorIvory in color
UsesDesserts, Pasta fillingsDesserts

Origin

Both of these cheeses can be traced back to Italy with historical origins for both. Ricotta has routes going right back to the times of the Romans.

Type

Both ricotta and mascarpone are types of soft cheese. While they are both whey cheeses the main difference is that ricotta comes from sheep, cow, goat, or buffalo milk whereas mascarpone only comes from cow’s milk.

Flavor

Mascarpone is sweeter than ricotta which is why it is primarily used in desserts alone. It also has more acidity, which also makes it better suited to a lot of the desserts it is used in.

Ricotta has some mild sweetness, but with less acidity than mascarpone cheese. Sometimes ricotta is allowed to age and dry which gives it a sharper flavor with more saltiness.

Texture

Mascarpone cheese often looks like ice cream. It looks buttery and creamy and is extremely soft and smooth.

Ricotta cheese has a more grainy-looking texture despite the fact that it is soft and creamy. It isn’t as smooth as mascarpone and the difference can be seen in the appearance visibly.

Appearance

Mascarpone has a white to ivory appearance depending on how it has been aged. When left out and not kept fresh, mascarpone can turn from more of an ivory color to a yellow.

Ricotta has a white appearance similar to that of milk or cream cheese. If other hues of color can be seen in ricotta then it’s a sign that it’s not very fresh.

Uses

You can use mascarpone cheese for a number of desserts such as tiramisu. It is often used in place of butter or cream to thicken sauces and add more richness of flavor to a dish. The heavy cream component of mascarpone means that the fat content is around 60-70% which is considerably more fat than what you would find in ricotta.

You can use ricotta cheese in desserts such as cannoli, but it’s also used in pasta dishes like ravioli and cannelloni as a filling along with vegetables such as spinach or red pepper. Ricotta is considered low-fat when compared to mascarpone.