Story: "Traditions need to evolve and grow or they die out"

Culinary discoveries in Valle di Muggio

Zincarlin had nearly been forgotten when Marialuce Valtulini gave the cheese a new lease of life. Four young men were distilling Ticino’s first gin in the meantime. Valle di Muggio in the southernmost...

It all started with four local friends who decided to make a gin of their own, and named it Bisbino. Valle di Muggio is a culinary stronghold – and it’s more than that. There’s great hiking to be had – just make sure to put some Gincarlin in your backpack…!


Marialuce Valtulini, Cheesemaker

Marialuce Valtulini, Cheesemaker
I’m stubborn when it comes to the ingredients for my cheese. I would never buy milk that came from another valley because that would change the identity of a zincarlin cheese.

Time seems to have stood still in the historic gardens of Sagno, an idyll all their own in Valle di Muggio. Plump tomatoes hang on the vines; a stone table awaits guests; a cat slips through the flowerbed.  

Martino Mombelli kneels in the garden where he grows the herbs for his gin: sniffing the verbena, inspecting the lemon balm. He hands us a stevia leaf to taste.   

Marialuce Valtulini, whom everyone calls “Luce” (Italian for light), stands next to him. The two met at the chestnut festival in autumn 2016. Martino Mombelli and his three friends Giona Meyer, Rupen Nacaroglu and Damiano Merzari had just launched Ticino’s first gin, which they called Gin Bisbino. 

For 12 months straight, they tinkered with the mixture of herbs in the gin – all organic, of course. The end result was a refined, very balanced gin. 

Gincarlin, Sagno

Although Luce had never tried gin before, she was an instant fan: “I love people with innovative ideas.”

Then, the next time she was kneading her zincarlin cheese into shape, it occurred to her to wonder, “Why don’t I try treating my cheese with gin instead of white wine?” 

Gincarlin was born.

Gincarlin is an ancient tradition that’s been interpreted in a new way – let’s call it zincarlin 2.0. Both products have a deep connection to Valle di Muggio.

A heritage cheese from Valle di Muggio, zincarlin might have died out had it not been for the efforts of Marialuce Valtulini and Associazione dei comuni del Generoso to revive the tradition. In 2005, she started producing the intensely-flavoured, cylinder-shaped cheese commercially in Salorino.

Gincarlin, Sagno
Gincarlin, Sagno

To make Gincarlin the cheese is treated with Gin Bisbino instead of the white wine. Martino thought it was a great idea.

Gincarlin, Sagno
Gincarlin, Sagno
Pro tip
Gin Bisbino contains just seven herbs – but they’re the right ones. The name comes from Monte Bisbino, which offers good hiking.
Local retailers include Il Magnifico Borgo in Mendrisio (Via Industria 5). Gincarlin tastes especially nice in a risotto!
Every year in mid-October, Valle di Muggio puts on a chestnut festival. It’s a great chance to try the chestnut beer from the organic brand Terra Matta.

But purists might object to desecrating the traditional cheese with gin!
Marialuce Valtulini waves those objections away. “Traditions that don’t change with the times are doomed to die out eventually.”

Gincarlin, Sagno
Gincarlin, Sagno

Valle di Muggio is a culinary stronghold but there’s more to it than zincarlin cheese and Gin Bisbino.

Gincarlin, Sagno
Gincarlin, Sagno

“We love good food,” says Luce. 

Local delicacies include the finest chestnut and polenta flour, brasato with herbs, veal ragout with mushrooms and the famous formaggini. 

Martino Mombelli is taken by the peace and beauty of this region – it’s not for nothing that Valle di Muggio was named the most beautiful landscape in Switzerland in 2014.