The Banon cheese of Banon: Introduction
The Banon cheese of Banon, speciality of the mountains of Lure, in the Alpes of Haute-Provence, is enveloped in a chestnut leaf, tied up with strands of raffia. A mix of mellowness and strong flavours, the Banon cheese has a unique flavour which makes it a cheese with a lot of character.
The Banon cheese can be eaten fresh or after it has been matured for 2 to three weeks in a cool and humid cellar.
Exterior appearance of the Banon cheese: A viscous rind
Odour of the Banon cheese: light milky odour
Texture of the Banon cheese: Hard without any elasticity
Taste of the Banon cheese: taste is tangy and pronounced.
The Banon cheese is produced in an area where the vegetation is not dense and is very specific (known as garrigue, or scrubland), due to the substratum and the Provençal climate which is medium altitude, dry, sunny and often rather cool in winter. This difficult terrain is perfect for the goats, because it contains the essentials for their diet. This environment has generated a system of production founded on pastoral farming , permitting its development of this specific terrain. In this way, each family who lived in this area kept goats, known as "the poor people's cow," which were useful for the production of fresh milk and cheese. Firstly fabricated for personal consumption, the surplus cheese was then sold at the local markets, in particular the market at BANON, a crossroads of important interconnecting routes and a place of fairs and markets.
The natural conditions of this region (climate, soil, vegetation) are ideal for the development of an pastoral activity based on small herds of goats which are raised in freedom. The herds of goats of local breeds (Goats of the Commune of Provençe, Roves, Alpines) are the sum and substance of the production of the Goat Commune of Provençe, which remains a traditional population which originates from "Provence des Collines." This should not be confused with the goats of Rove which originate from the Basse Provence, around the delta of the Rhône, or with the goats of the Roya in the Alpes Maritimes. The genetic variability of the goats of the Commune of Provençe means that they have a remarkable adaptability and rustic character. This goat is above all a producer of milk which particularly expresses its potential on the mediterranean terrain which is a base of white oak and aphyllante of Montpellier (a blue flowering plant of this region) . The goat was known as "the little and effective breed." In 2005, there were between 500 and 600 pure females bred among a dozen specialist breeders. The future of the race is uncertain and fragile. It is today emblamatic of the Banon AOC cheese, and it is hoped that a new boom will enable this goat to retake the place that it merits in its home of Provence. At Banon, the goats feed at least 210 days a year and for at least 4 months they normally find the majority of their food on the pasture. The surface for grazing should be at least equal to 1 hectare of terrain for 8 goats and from 1 hectare of space to roam free for 2 goats.
Any rearing of the goats outside this specific terrain is prohibited as well as any forage which is preserved by the wet process and the feeding of cruciferous plants or vegetables is also banned: this further guarantees that the milk is of good quality, which then produces the best cheese.
The Banon cheese is shaped into a thick, slightly rounded disk with a diameter of 7cm and a thickness of 2.5cm. It weighs around 110g.
History of the Banon cheese
The Banon cheese of Banon was already very renowned in the Gallo-Roman period, and the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (86-161 AD) died from eating so much. Also, the cheese of "Banon" was presented on the tables of the lords of Provence in the Middle Ages. QUENIN (a writer) writes that the cheese first appeared on the markets and at fairs in 1270, together with the mention from this famous scholar, the naming of the cheese as "the cheese of Banon" is mentioned in the arbitral maximes of Banon and Saint-Christol.
A lot later on, closer to today, in 1849, the abbot FERAUD, prominant scholar of the Basses Alpes wrote about Banon " there are several fairs at Banon which are attended. The cheese which is sold is highly estimed."
The Banon cheese was born due to a need for the preservation of the milk, an essential food resource, in order to be able to consume it during the winter months when the goats did not give milk.
Fabrication of the Banon cheese
The Banon cheese is made with raw milk (unpasturised), it has mixed curds, obtained after 1 to 3 hours of coagulation. Moulded with a ladle, it undergoes two successive turns in the cheese strainer, a salting when needed, and a pre-ripening of 4 to 6 days before being wrapped in the leaves. At this point it is matured for 5 to 15 days. The Banon cheese becomes soft and spicy, but not strong. The chesnut leaves render their tanine, which allows a longer preservation and gives a unique flavour. All of the character of Banon is in the cheese, in the subtle marriage of the animal kingdom and the vegetable kingdom.
The milk used for the cheese is raw and whole, not standardised in proteins and fat. All physical or chemical treatment is prohibited apart from a filtration which eliminates the microscopic impurities, where it is cooled to an affirmative temperature similar to when it is preserved, and then heated to a maximum of 35°C before being renneted. With the exception of adding rennet, milk fermenting agents, fermenting agents for ripening and salt (sodium chloride) the adding or taking away of anything else is prohibited. The milk is renneted at a temperature of between 29°C and 35°C. For the farm produced cheese, the milk is renneted for a maximum of 18 hours, after the lastest milk has been collected. For the dairy produced cheese, it only needs a maximum of 4 hours after the latest milk has been collected. The cutting of the curd happens after a maximum of 2 hours of the milk being renneted.
The curd is ground manually in the cheese-strainers. The draining is done at a minimum temerature of 20°C and the cheeses are turned at least twice during the first 12 hours. The moulds are turned out between 24 and 48 hours after the cheese was put in the moulds. The cheese is salted. The transfer of curds or cheese is prohibited.
The maturing of the Banon cheese takes place in two steps. The first ripening of the bare cheese before it is wrapped in the leaves, lasts for 5 to 10 days at a minimum temperature of 8°C- then a second step after the cheese is wrapped in the chesntut leaves lasts for at least 10 days at a temperature of between 8 and 14°C. The level of hydrometry should be more than 80%. The cheeses can be soaked in the eau de vie of wine or the alcohol from grape skins before being wrapped in the chestnut leaves. The way in which the chese is matured twice, for a minimum of 15 days after being renneted, allows the cheese to develop its charicteristic aromas.
The Banon cheese: AOC since 2003. The area of designation includes 179 communes across the departments of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, the Haute-Alpes, the Vaucluse and the Drôme. The annual production of Banon is only 68 tons, which makes the AOC Banon cheese the smallest AOC cheese-maker in volume in France.