When cheese meets gin

Alexander Maasch Kak2jp8ie8s Unsplash

Merlot has become a symbol of the wine production of Mendrisiotto area and of Ticino in general. However, the territorial typicality can also be found in other gastronomic products. This is the case of Zincarlin from la Val da Mücc (Muggio Valley) a cheese which, in 2004, became the first Slow Food Presidium in Switzerland and which also sees the use of local wine in its production.

What is Zincarlin

Zincarlin is a cheese made from cow's milk or a mixture of cow and goat.

It is produced in two kinds: fresh and seasoned. The first is widespread throughout the canton, the second is produced in the Muggio Valley, in the Mendrisiotto area. It is a particular cheese rich in pepper, with a spicy taste and an unmistakable shape: a dome with a reddish color. If the ancient tradition of the Muggio Valley has returned to being an internationally recognized typical production, it is thanks to the commitment of Marialuce Valtulini, from Morbio Inferiore. With the help of the Valle di Muggio Products Association and the Generoso Municipalities Association, you have contributed greatly to obtaining the Slow Food Presidium. In his cellar in Salorino the Zincarlin produced by local farmers are refined. For about two months, the cheeses with their characteristic dome shape are washed with white wine to remove the mold and allow the crust to form.


The name Zincarlin, according to some linguists, has Celtic origins and derives from tsigros, a term that indicated a cheese prepared for domestic use. The German ziger and the dialectal form zigra (ricotta cheese) also derive from the same base.

That of Zincarlin is the classic story of a “recycled” cheese, the brainchild of rural civilization, inspired, consciously or otherwise, by the principles of reuse and the circular economy. At the beginning of the 20th century, the families of the valley and the neighbouring territories - even across the border - when they found themselves with unsold fresh cheeses, they used to mixed it with salt and pepper and left to age in the cellar. The added salt acted as a preservative and the pepper was an excellent anti-microbial as well as a flavouring. Each family had its own recipe and added its own spices.

The depopulation of the valley, after 1950, and the subsequent introduction of stricter regulations for the production of curd in Switzerland towards the end of the twentieth century, led to a progressive disappearance of Zincarlin. Only at the beginning of the 21st century was there a commitment to save this traditional heritage.

The characteristics of the cheese

Zincarlìn is the name of various dairy products on the slopes of the border massifs between Lake Lugano and Lake Como, between the Canton of Ticino and Lombardy. However, the Zincarlìn that has obtained the Slow Food Presidium has particular characteristics. It is a raw cheese, with an inverted cup shape, produced on the Swiss side of Monte Generoso, in the Canton of Ticino.

Cow's milk is used, but small amounts of goat's milk can be added when it is in season. The milk is processed raw and the maturation traditionally lasts at least two months, and takes place in semi-underground cellars, on the slopes of the Monte Generoso massif. Almost every day the washing with wine and salt takes place. During maturation, Zincarlin sees the formation of a reddish-yellow color coating, the texture becomes soft and mellow, more complex and persistent aromas and flavours develop which make it excellent combined with very dry white wines or even with a sweet wine. The combination with chestnut honey is delicious.

Zincarlin is offered on the menu of several caves and restaurants in the Mendrisiotto area and can be purchased at the Provamm in Mendrisio or at the markets selling typical products.

There is also a variant, called Gincarlin, in which Gin Bisbino is used instead of wine for the maturing washes. It is an entirely Ticino gin, based on 7 organic aromatic herbs (including verbena, lemon balm, stevia), also produced in the Muggio Valley.