Paxton & Whitfield, 93 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6JE.
As the global political scene becomes more unstable by the day it feels oddly comforting to be invited to Paxton & Whitfield in Jermyn Street for a port and cheese tasting event. Paxton & Whitfield opened their first shop 1797 and now have a group of four, stocking 150 mostly British cheeses. Alongside Paxton & Whitfield cheesemonger Hero Hirsh, we are being guided by journalist, author and broadcaster Jane Parkinson. Jane is the author of a book called “Wine and Food” so I’m hoping she’ll know what she is talking about as I’m having friends and family round on Xmas evening for port and cheese and I need to be able to annoy them with my knowledge and erudition.But before the proceedings kicked off we were served an aperitif of Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port (£13.29 from Waitrose) and tonic. I’m a big fan of white port having first discovered the drink in Sicily in the early 90s. I liked it so much that I drank the whole bottle and ended up with a policeman trying to arrest me for dancing libidonously with a stolen communist party flag. My past revolutionary shenanigans aside, mixed with Fevertree Tonic it makes for a great summer’s drink and a refreshing alternative to a G&T.We learnt how port comes from the Douro valley, an extraordinarily beautiful and fertile part of the world, which is bisected by the River Douro that flows northwards up to Spain. Jane explained how port is a fortified wine-before all the natural sugars in the grape juice turn to alcohol, grape spirit is added which stops the process of fermentation leaving a residual sweetness. We would mostly be drinking Taylor’s Port- an innovative family owned firm which has been going for over 300 years. But then it was time for the serious business of the tasting; port was slurped, cheese nibbled and opinions formed. This was serious adult fun and if you wanted a themed social event this would be a great idea. Below are the tasting notes and suppliers details.Sinodun Hill (£10.95/200g) – (Unpasteurised, vegetarian rennet) This goat’s cheese is made by Norton and Yarrow Cheese based at Earth Trust Farm, near Shillingford, South Oxfordshire. It is a ripened goat’s cheese pyramid, similar in style to a French Pouligny. The milk comes from the cheesemakers’ own herd of Anglo Nubian goats. The cheese has a nice subtle farminess combined with a citric tang and a pleasant nuttiness. The texture is smooth and creamy with aromas of fresh hay. Matched with Taylor’s First Estate (£12 Sainsbury’s, Tesco) which was a young fresh and fruity blend.
Brillat Savarin Affine (£6.50/250g) (Pasteurised, traditional rennet) This French cheese was created at the end of the nineteenth century as a cheese that could feature in the final course of grand gastronomic meals. Its name is attributed to Henri Androuet in the 1930s, the founder of Paxton’s Parisian partners – the Fromagerie Androuet, in homage to the celebrated French gastronome Brillat- Savarin. Today, Paxton’s Brillat Savarin Affine is made in the Bourgogne region of France, and is enriched with the addition of cream to the cows’ milk before the cheesemaking process starts. It has a very quick ripening process, with an affinage of between one and two weeks which takes place in a dry cellar. The cheese is shaped like a small drum and is coated in a light penicillin mould giving it the appearance of snow. The texture is soft and the flavour is light and delicate but with a rich creaminess stemming from the additional cream. There can also be a slight sourness that nicely balances the richness. Matched with Taylor’s 2010/11 Late Bottled Vintage Port (£15 Tesco, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s) which despite its youth has the earthy and savoury characteristics of a vintage port due to the length of time it spends in an oak barrel-Great value!
Paxton’s Cave-Aged Cheddar PDO* (£20.00/per kg) – (Pasteurised, vegetarian rennet) This special Cheddar has been made for Paxton & Whitfield from pasteurised cows’ milk using vegetarian rennet. Carefully cave matured at Wookey Hole, near Wells in Somerset, for up to three months, this cheese has a distinctive fruity and nutty bite. It has underlying earthy notes absorbed from its maturation period in the caves at Wookey Hole and a very dense consistency that is very satisfying in the mouth. This is a specialist cheese, which is made to exacting specifications regarding geography, milk source and recipe, earning it a coveted Protected Designation of Origin (PDO*). Matched with Paxton’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port (£19) which is again aged in an oak barrel and should be served slightly chilled to allow the mellow sweet flavours of chocolate and salt caramel to come through.
Gruyère Reserve PDO* (£44.00/Kg) – (Unpasteurised, traditional rennet) This cows’ milk cheese must be made in Switzerland due to its Protected Designation Origin (PDO*). It comes in the shape of a wheel that weighs from 25 to 40kg and it has a clean, even-coloured, brown and grainy rind. The body of the cheese is slightly soft and waxy in texture with an attractive ivory colour that can vary with the season. The taste is dominated by a flavour that is gently salty with fruity notes and a lactic aftertaste. Matched with Taylor’s 20 Year Old Tawny (£38) with its notes of spiced apricot and mango.
Mimolette made from cows’ milk in the countryside near Lille in Northern France. It is made in a similar way to Edam and is round in shape. It has a bright orange coloured pate and a dry, lunar, grey-brown pitted rind. Introduced early on in the affinage, cheese mites nibble on the rind, continuously exposing more of the pate to air, expediting maturation. It has a full rounded flavour – salty, sweet and caramel-like. Matched with Taylor’s Quinta De Vargellas 2002 Vintage (£30)-another great value port. The single estate Quintas are released when there is no vintage-full of fruity, spicy, leather flavours.
Stilton PDO* (£24.00/kg) – (Pasteurised, traditional rennet) Stilton is the classic cheese to enjoy at Christmas and Paxton & Whitfield’s award-winning Stilton is handmade by Cropwell Bishop Creamery in Nottinghamshire. The creamery has been making the cheese for over 160 years and Paxton’s cheeses are all graded to be of the best quality. The milk to make the cheese comes from a blend of evening and morning milk from the best local farms. Paxton & Whitfield Stilton is matured for about 12 weeks before it gets sold from the shops. As it matures the cheese gains a creamy and mellow flavour, with a buttery richness that melts in the mouth. Stilton in prime condition, like Paxton’s, should be creamy yellow with an even spread of blue-green veins. The strength of the flavour should not be overpowering but have a pleasant, herby tang. Matched with Paxton Vintage Port 2000 (£32) from the Skeffington port house with a sweet concentrated richness.
Walnut Oaties (£3.85/150g) – These Walnut Oaties are handmade with locally sourced rolled oats from County Armagh. They are crammed with walnuts for a rich, nutty taste and texture.
* PDO – Protected Designation of Origin, for products that are produced, processed and prepared within a particular geographical area, and with features and characteristics that must be due to that area.
We had a lovely time at Paxton & Whitfield so thank you to Hero, Jane and all the staff. It’s a wonderful place to go and discover more about our British cheeses. I have been to Porto and the Douro valley where the wines are spectacular and the scenery magnificent so it was terrific to revisit my memories through this tasting.
Paxton & Whitfield stores:
93 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6JE Tel: 020 7930 0259
22 Cale Street London SW3 3QU Tel: 020 7584 0751
1 John Street, Bath BA1 2JL Tel: 01225 466 403
13 Wood Street, Stratford upon Avon CV37 6JF Tel: 01789 415 544