It is rumored that Emperor Antoninus Pius who died in 161BC, died from eating too much Banon Cheese.
What makes this unpasteurized goat cheese so special you ask? It is the way they make it and it has been made this way for a very long time. The cheese was first made by a couple in the village of Puimichel near the town of Banon in the region of Alpes-de-Haute Provence.
The unpressed curd is placed in an earthenware jar and seasoned with salt and pepper and doused with vinegar and eau de vie, a clear fruit brandy then left to ferment. The cheese will last for years becoming stronger with time. The cheese when young taste sour and chalky, but let it age and you have a little piece of heaven. After a few weeks the young cheese is wrapped in chestnut leaves to continue the ageing process.
How can you tell a good Banon Cheese? By the color of the leaves. Dark green or brown are the best. It is very soft and creamy with a fruity and slightly nutty taste and a pungent aroma. The taste and texture change with age. The rumor says that if you taste this cheese during the month of May while in France at the Banon Cheese festival you will forever yearn to return to Banon.
You can be certain when purchasing Banon cheese from France that you will always get a similar product. The French, who awarded Banon the AOC, or term of controlled origin in the 2000s, regulates the production of the cheese. This means that only certain cheese meeting the French standards for the production of Banon cheese, may be called so. The French regulate all aspects of how, where and when Banon can be produced and labeled within their country.
The word Banon is pronounced ban-awh. The final n as in many French words is not pronounced. You may also find Banon cheese called Banon à la feuille, translated as cheese of the leaf or cheese with a sheet. It is sold in small rounds that are traditionally wrapped with chestnut or grape leaves to enhance the flavor of the cheese and keep it moist, which hastens the production of molds adding even more flavor as the cheese ages. As it ages, the cheese becomes more creamy in texture and richer in flavor, providing a somewhat fruity tasting cheese. Banon cheese is usually served as an hors d’oeuvre or with fruit and wine.