One of Switzerland’s most famous cheeses, Sbrinz has a long history; the origins of its production are thought to date back to Roman times. It has been produced and sold as Sbrinz since 1530, the year from which documents in Bern’s public record office report the sale of a huge quantity of cheese, carried by a caravan that set out for Italy from the central Swiss town of Brienz, most probably the origin of the cheese’s name.
Before that period it was known as Schwyzer or Spalen, and was commonly sold under those names outside of central Switzerland. The mule track that crossed the passes of Grimsel and Gries on the way to Domodossola, one of the most trodden routes, is known as “Via Sbrinz” (www.sbrinz-route.ch).
Production is still concentrated in central Switzerland, between the cantons of Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, Obwalden and Nidwalden, Zug and the Muri region in the Canton of Aargau. This area has the best alpine dairies and pastures, and until the 19th century the cheese was made from mountain milk. With the opening of the first dairies in the valley, production started to shift to the lowlands as well. Valley production was cheaper and could be continued year-round. Out of the 30 plus dairies that currently produce Sbrinz AOC (a protected denomination of origin since 2002), only about ten work in the mountains.
The raw milk from the evening milking is mixed with the morning milk, one of which is partially skimmed. The milk is processed in traditional copper caldrons and curdled at a temperature of 32°C (90°F). The curd is broken with a tool called a lira (lyre), carefully reheated until it reaches a temperature between 54°C and 57°C (129-136°F), then firmly pressed into round molds. The Sbrinz forms are then soaked in brine for 15 to 20 days. The exudation phase follows, and then an initial drying. This lasts for around four weeks, during which a natural film of grease forms on the cheese’s surface. This is rubbed off with a cloth once a week. Sbrinz is traditionally aged vertically, on pine boards in cellars. The large cheeses age for at least 16 months. The best cheeses are left for 24 months and called Sbrinz AOC, while the others are consumed after 18-20 months of aging. These cheeses are then cut into thin shavings using a special slicer, common around the country.
The Presidium protects cheeses made from the milk of four mountain dairies, aiming to raise the profile of this excellent cheese among consumers in Switzerland and elsewhere, distinguishing it from the mass of industrialized Sbrinz that dominates the market.
Obwalden and Nidwalden cantons, central Switzerland
Presidium supported by
tel. +41 796435314
Famiglia Paul Barmettler
Bleiki Mountain Pasture
tel. +41 416281644
Engelberg – Alpenstrasse, 5
tel. +41 416373929
Tel. +41 628 25 62
Tel. +41 416373929
Slow Food Presidium coordinator