“Meadow, oyster, mushroom, butter!” my friend Bronwyn cried on tasting Banon, the small, mottled goats cheese that emerged from its rustic chestnut leaf and raffia wrappings on Saturday nights’ cheese board. What a wonderful surprise for my guests that such a strange little package could hold so much taste and bring forth such a delighted response.
Wrapped in chestnut leaves soaked in wine or eau de vie (Marc), Banon is a distinctive unpasturised AOC goats cheese from the infertile but sunny soils around the town of Banon in Provence. The chestnut leaves help it last the winter and as it ages imprint both the surface and flavour, giving the cheese a rich earthiness that you don’t really associate with a goats cheese. The white rind of ours last night was positively mottled with chestnut leaves, but I’ve had younger ones which were more untouched.
Banon is a great addition to any cheeseboard – it has visual impact, is seriously delicious without being scary and quite a rare thing for a kiwi cheese geek. I saw Banon at La cigalle last week in Auckland and I got this beauty from MediFoods in Newtown, but you won’t find them at the supermarket or even places like Nosh or Moore WIlsons. So when you do, grab one and know you are in for an ‘exquisitely earthy’* treat.
But they’re not cheap, this tiny package, only 7cm by 2.5cm, weighing about 100g, cost around $18. Compare that with your 2kg of budget valumetric cheese from a supermarket – the economies of scale played out big time! Mind you, this is artisan, hand crafted and after all goats don’t produce a lot, this is probably the daily milk from a couple of goats.
But it shone out on my cheese board, eclipsing the other subsequent cheeses. Ask any of my guests today which one they remembered, which was the highlight and it will be the Banon that was unforgettable. Just so unlike any cheese they had seen or eaten before. You see the chestnut leaves change the cheese and a warm, nuttyiness envelopes the bleached, chalky centre, Banon is earth on your fingers and sun on your tongue. Who could resist?
The aesthetics too are dramatic – the raffia resists being arranged and the chestnut-leaf bed provides an artful stage set seldom seen on a cheeseboard. What a multi-sensory experience – cheap at twice the price!
Actually you could think of an expensive strange cheese like this as the high point in a cheese board, and whilst you will need other cheeses to provide more substance, you can pair it with more work-a-day cheeses. We had it with a French Reblochon, which totally receded into the background and a New Zealand cumin seed Gouda, which provided earthy sweet bulk.
So thankyou MediFoods in Newtown – way to go Gino and Jo letting Kate buy some raw milk cheese. And thankyou to Dom for importing Banon. Keep the Banon coming.
*Cheese, Juliet Harbutt, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd, London, 1999