Banon cheese is a small (2 to 3 inches in diameter) French goat cheese that comes from an ancient cheese-making tradition of the farms of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department of southeastern France and is also produced in parts of a few neighboring départements. It has benefited from protected designation of origin status since 2003.
Always presented encased in chestnut tree leaves, Banon cheese is a soft, creamy cheese with a color that ranges from pale white to golden brown. During its production, strict rules based on centuries of historical refinement must be followed. The cheese is first ripened “nude” (uncovered by leaves) over a period of five to ten days. After this, farmers cover the cheese by hand using the chestnut leaves and then it ferments for at least ten more days. The leaves shelter the cheese from air and light, which helps to give the cheese a creamy, soft texture with specific flavors that come from the transfers of tannins in the leaves to the cheese. The leaves used must be brown and are collected in autumn after they fall. The largest producer of Banon cheese uses a total of five million chestnut leaves each year for producing their cheeses.
This cheese has been present in this region for centuries and as such has a deep historical connection to its place of production. There is even an ancient (and likely mistaken) legend that the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius died in 161 AD after having eaten an extreme quantity of it. Historians think he actually died due to malaria – but this story nonetheless shows that the cheese has been known here since ancient times. Banon was also appreciated on the tables of the Middle Ages, and the writers Jules Verne (Around the World in Eighty Days, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth) and Frédéric Mistral (a Nobel Prize winning author from Provence) were known to be fans of it in the 19th century.
The cheese takes its name from the small village of the same name in whose markets the cheese first experienced commercial success. The village celebrates the cheese every year in the annual Banon Cheese Festival in the spring.
Banon cheese is enjoyed in all seasons, and is often eaten on a slice of country bread alongside cherry or fig jam. Perfect wine companions include Côtes-du-Rhone, Ventoux, or Luberon white wines.