Coming from the market-town of Banon, just north of Aix in southern France, Banon is a soft unpasteurised cheese made from goat's milk. Granted AOC status in 2003, Banon is a very old, traditional cheese said to date back to the Gallo-Roman era.
The cheese is wrapped in a case of chestnut leaves, held in place with raffia. Cheese makers gather the leaves in autumn when they fall off the trees. Some of the producers dip the leaves and raffia in vinegar or eau-de-vie to impart a unique flavour to the cheese.
Banon is aged for a minimum of two weeks. As it ages further, the soft & sticky cheese develops blue and gray moulds on and under the leaves, leading to a strong and intense flavour. The casing of leaves protects the washed-rind disc and allows the young, slightly acidic cheese to remain moist. It also imparts a fresh vegetable flavour with a hint of wine. Banon cheeses range from firm, mild and lactic to soft, creamy and tart, with a nutty flavour.
The local expertise, Fromage Fort du Mont Ventoux, is manufactured by positioning a young Banon cheese (without chestnut leaves) in an earthenware crock, seasoning it with salt and pepper and pouring over vinegar or local eau-de-vie. The crock is often placed in a cool cellar and the cheese left to ferment, with just the sporadic stir. The longer it is left, the stronger it becomes.
Banon goes well with crusty baguette, fresh fruits and a glass of dry white wine.