Banon cheese is a delightful soft French cheese that derives its name from the town in which it is made, Banon, in Provence. The cheese normally matures young and has a wood/fruit flavor that it takes from the chestnut leaves in which the cheese is wrapped. The typical Banon cheese is made from goats’ milk, though occasionally cow milk is added. The milk is not, in most cases pasteurized.
The history of Banon cheese extends far back into medieval times. Early references to Banon cheese occur as early as 1270 CE. It was then, and still continues to be just one of the many soft cheeses typically made by farmers, that is popular and distinctly French.
Most types of Banon cheese are hand molded, and are left to sit for 5 days prior to being wrapped in the leaves from chestnut trees. The wrapped cheese is considered mature after two weeks, and can then be sold. Since it is a fresh cheese, its taste does not improve much with age. In fact, Banon cheese should be consumed soon after it is fully ripe and mature.
While the cheese is wrapped in chestnut leaves it readily absorbs some of the flavor of the leaves, accounting for what many call a fruit/wood flavored cheese. Some find the fragrance of the cheese a bit strong, while other lovers of cheese suggest it only has a slight nutlike fragrance, certainly not comparable to cheese like kasseri or Limburger.
It can excite your culinary instincts to both purchase and eat Banon cheese. It tends to be sold in its chestnut wrappers, and may also be wrapped in straw or raffia. Thus, you purchase a very pretty package when you purchase Banon cheese.
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.
If you look for Banon cheese in good cheese sections of grocers or specialty stores, it’s important to know how to pronounce it. 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. Usually in the US, you can merely ask for ban-awh from your local cheese expert at a good grocery store or deli, to find this excellent soft cheese.