Ziger (German), Sérac (French) or Ricotta (Italian), is a group of fresh cheeses originating in Switzerland. Ziger is nationally widespread as it is the by-product of the manufacture of hard Swiss-type cheeses, such as Gruyère and Emmental. Made of whey, it is rich in proteins and it is historically a staple food in the Alpine regions.
The French term sérac or séré is mentioned among other cheeses in a Gruyère document dating from 1312. In Valais, it is mentioned in a document from 1437. This appellation, however, might have been associated with another type of fresh cheese which was not a by-product but a domestically made cheese. The Schabziger, from Glarus, is an example of such fresh cheese. Ziger, as a peasant staple food produced from whey, appears in literature from the Renaissance. Several writings from the 18th and 19th centuries also shows that, at that time, Ziger was close to what we know today. From the 20th century, the consumption of Ziger declined owing to an increase in purchasing power. Today its production is very small compared to other Swiss cheeses.
In Ticino, Ziger is known as Ricotta, Mascarpa or Zigra, and it has been produced there at least since the late Middle Ages. In the Val Bedretto (Leventina), eating lunch is called züfé, literally "eating fresh ricotta", an expression that indicates the monotony of the diet of the mountain dwellers in the past.
It takes about 40 liters of milk to produce one kilogram of Ziger. Today whey is obtained after curdling the milk using rennet and selected lactic acid bacteria. It is then heated to around 90 °C. The precipitation of whey proteins is obtained by lowering the pH, or by adding acid (lactic, acetic or citric). The solid parts are then collected using a strainer and poured into pierced molds in which the product will be left to drain and, therefore, to firm up. The product is ready to sold the following day.
Since Ziger has little taste, it is generally sprinkled with salt and pepper, whether it is eaten fresh or fried. It is also used in bakery, notably for Zigerkrapfen, which are fritters filled with a sweet and flavored Ziger filling. These are made since the 18th century and are particularly popular in central Switzerland.