Italian Cheese

This “Italian cheese” has intrigued me for some time. It comes from UPenn MS Codex 876 (1780). Just under this one is a recipe for “Cow Head Cheese” – containing not just “two Cow Heads” but also “two Calves Feet” plus “two Calves or Sheepe tongues.” I wasn’t feeling daring enough for this one (and didn’t happen to have a few bovine appendages hanging around), but it certainly represents a nose-to-tail approach! Since I’d rather just carry home a pint of cream and a few lemons from the market, I decided that it was time for Italian Cheese. This recipe only requires three main ingredients: cream, lemons, and sugar, plus almonds and raisins (or whatever you’d like) for garnish.

The Recipe

italian cheese

Italian Cheese

Grate the rind of two Lemons,

into a Pint of good Cream, add to

it the Juice of one Lemon, &

a quarter of a pound fine Sugar,

Whip it up together, put it in

a small Sieve, & let it stand

all Night. When sent up, stick

it with blanch’d Almonds &

Raisins — it must not be over

whipp’d —

The Results

The easy availability of these ingredients and the straightforward instructions meant that I followed the instructions above fairly closely.  Since the recipe cautioned that “it must not be over whipp’d,” I whisked the cream, lemon, and sugar mixture lightly, by hand, for about 30 seconds. The mixture was thicker than unwhipped heavy cream but not yet thick or airy. I then poured it into my handy sieve … only to have most of it go straight through into the bowl below. Oops. I lined the sieve with two single sheets of cheesecloth and tried again, which worked perfectly. As instructed, I let it sit in the fridge overnight (plus the non-eighteenth-century addition of some plastic wrap on top) to drain and thicken. It had yielded about 2-3 tablespoons of liquid within a few hours; since that amount didn’t seem to increase much overnight, you could probably rush this recipe in 3+ hours if necessary.

I suspected that it might turn out something like our cream cheese, just sweeter and citrusy, perhaps closer in taste to mascarpone than to the tanginess of cream cheese. And this hunch was mostly correct: it’s thinner than cream cheese or mascarpone (think the consistency of a thin custard or non-Greek yogurt), with a rich, sweet creaminess. The lemon zest in addition to the juice adds a nice zip – since I like citrus, I might increase both the zest and the juice next time. It would be fun to try this with orange, with meyer lemons, or with a mix of lemon and orange. Many citrus possibilities!

Since this uses a pint of cream, and depending on how you’re serving it, it could probably yield at least six servings and up to ten. I spooned a few dollops into a bowl and sprinkled slivered almonds on top. I don’t particularly care for raisins but had some dried sour cherries at hand and used those instead – I really liked the lemon/cherry combination. Raisins could of course work, as would currants or even chopped dried apricots or figs. Basically, I think this recipe lends itself to many variations. I ate a few spoonfuls of the concoction on its own and then remembered some spiced jumball cookies (we’ll post the recipe soon) in my freezer. It turns out that jumballs make an excellent vehicle for Italian cheese! It would also work very well spooned over fresh fruit or in a trifle. Italian cheese: easy to make, easy to enjoy.

14 thoughts on “Italian Cheese

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    One of my favorite sites, Cooking in the Archives, has a new historic recipe – Italian Cheese. This recipe reminds of another fresh cheese, paneer, the preparation is actually quite similar. This is a fairly simple and easy recipe. I’m looking forward to making a batch this weekend. Once again, Alyssa and Marissa should be complemented for their efforts.

    • It was! I’m really looking forward to trying different variations, as I suspect it’s difficult to make this and NOT have it turn out well.

  2. I’ve discovered your blog last week and find it pretty interesting 🙂 that recipe sounds delicious and might be a nice experiment to do with a 3yo.
    Why did you put it in the fridge though? Do you think it might react differently if left outside in the kitchen overnight?

    • Thanks very much, Fred, and yes – this would be a great recipe to do with a young child. (You might also take a look at the Carrot Pudding recipe, which one of our wonderful readers recently made with her children.) In fact, it somehow never even occurred to me not to put it in the fridge overnight, so thank you for pointing out my blindspot here. Perhaps it might thicken more? I’ll try half in the fridge and half out on the counter next time for comparison. (And if you happen to try it, please let us know how it turns out!)

  3. Hi Alyssa,

    Great find! Can’t wait to try this receipt. For accuracy’s sake: there’s no word missing in the original (you have “set” in brackets). It reads “When sent up”, which means to the eating room, whether for dinner or supper; i.e., that the dish is to be garnished just before serving.

    Thanks for all your wonderful work — you’re giving us fantastic resources, and the benefit of your actual experiences with the receipts is extremely helpful!


    • Karen, thank you! I bracketed “set” because I suspected it was incorrect and then, of course, forgot to return to it. And indeed, we’re having a great time seeing how these recipes actually turn out in our kitchens. So glad that you’re enjoying the project as well.

  4. I make yogurt and paneer from time to time and I would guess that you would get a thicker end result if you didn’t refrigerate, and also if you used cream that had not been ultra high temp pasteurized. I see a big difference between results using UHT and just regular pasteurized but non UHT is getting quite a bit harder to come by. Of course the cream used for the original probably wouldn’t have been boiled at all which would change the results even further.

    • Indeed – I’d be very curious to compare versions of this left out vs. refrigerated (which will be an easy experiment), and with UHT pasteurized vs. pasteurized vs. unpasteurized cream (which would be harder to source).

  5. Pingback: My Lady Chanworths receipt for Jumballs | Cooking in the Archives

  6. Pingback: Cooking in the Archives: Updating Early Modern Recipes (1600-1800) in a Modern Kitchen | La Cocina Histórica

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