Saturday, 24 December 2011

Chaource v Banon: a tale of two cheeses

I'd been waiting for autumn. Autumn brings long golden evenings. And on the market in Ezy I always have to wait till Autumn to get my Banon, a tight little puck of goat's cheese wrapped in its chestnut leaves, at the cheese counter. And Mont d'Or, too, cheese for eating with a spoon dipped into its liquid centre, till all that's left is the rind, redolent of the pine strips that bind it.

(And by the way, if you're eating Mont d'Or, and you love the resiny scent of the rind, don't say '├ža sent le sapin'. That refers to the pine out of which coffins are made. You say it when your rich old aunt starts coughing - though perhaps not in her hearing, not if you want to inherit - or you might perhaps say it when someone's boss starts getting suspiciously friendly....)

This autumn I decided I'd have a cheese-off between two of the great cheeses; Chaource and Banon. North and South. Fresh and aged. Cow and goat. Chalk and, er, cheese.

Chaource is from the area near Troyes, in the Champagne-Ardenne region; made of cows' milk, gently crumbly, with a light, white rind.

Banon is from the south, from the rocky pastures and garrigue of Provence. It's made of goats' milk, and dipped in eau de vie before wrapping. It's creamy, but quite hard. If you bite into a Brie, the cheese seeps and slides and the teeth marks disappear, like words written in the sand just above the low tide line; but if you bite into a Banon, the mark stays.

Now I'm never entirely sure I like Banon. I love it, but do I like it? There's something incredibly concentrated about this cheese. It's not stinky or goaty - it's just very, very concentrated. Very there. It's as if all the taste of a cheese seven or eight times bigger had been taken and put in this tiny disc of cheese.

I never bother eating Banon with bread. It doesn't need it. I just take a thin segment, and eat it, very, very slowly.

Chaource is completely different. Actually it does have rather a nice goatiness to it, which is odd since 'no goats were harmed in the creation of this cheese' - but it's immensely fresh tasting, innocent, it's almost a spring-time cheese. You could eat it with cheese - it belongs to the same family of taste as ricotta, fresh without being really creamy. It's incredibly easy to eat far too much of it. The tall cylinder of a typical Chaource is deceptively large; in fact we get through one in a couple of days.

I'd expected to find Chaource lightweight compared to Banon. But it's not without its own character - and there are days when I need this lovely cheese to bring a little sunshine into my life.

Chaource is like a Vivaldi concerto. Banon is like the Liebestod.

Such variety. Such huge divergences. Any wonder that when someone asks me 'What is your favourite cheese', I'm lost for words...