Bryony Weaver checks out Paxton & Whitfield’s refurbishment, and discovers that the cheese is as good as ever.
In these difficult times, it’s more usual to hear of restaurant closures and small businesses going to the wall, than clientele support and renewed vision. So it’s especially pleasing to be invited back to a cheese boutique that I was first introduced to a few years’ ago, while working as Food Editor for GT magazine.
Paxton & Whitfield is no flashy parvenu. The famous ‘by royal appointment’ cheesemaker has occupied the same flagship Jermyn Street store since 1896, and used the proceeding 111 years to expanded its outlets to Bath and Stratford-on-Avon. Paxton & Whitfield has expanded online too, all the while developing, nurturing and perfecting its savoury products.
And, reflecting the confidence its owners have in their expanding inventory of specialist and much-loved cheeses, the St James shop has just had a makeover. The refurbishment has created an open, stylish look, while retaining the dimensions and certain style features – oak floors, open brickwork – of its traditional décor. The semi-modernised interior sports a sleek, slate-surface counter, perfect for extending the display of hard cheeses, particularly Paxton & Whitfield’s own Cave-Aged Cheddar (£4.50/ 250g). Alongside the old fitted cabinets, displaying cheese accessories such as olive-wood and slate cheese boards, knives and graters, there are now two purpose-built refrigerated display units that keep the softer cheeses at just the right temperature and make browsing easy.
Ros Windsor, Paxton & Whitfield’s managing director, explains the thinking behind the refit: “We’ve known that we had to improve the environment for our customers, staff and cheeses for a while, but we wanted to ensure that we did it sensitively. We’re a traditional business… many of our well-established customer base have strong feelings about our shop. What I hope we’ve created is an environment that continues to delight regular customers, but also appeals to those with different expectations. We’re thrilled with the result – we hope all our customers will be, too.”
But without having a quality product to display, all this would be just a vanity project. Paxton & Whitfield has championed cheeses from family-run producers for many years. One of tonight’s showcased varieties, the Appleby’s Cheshire (£5/ 250g), is the baby of Christine and Ed Appleby: “We’re very traditional cheesemakers,” says Christine, “and we’ve had an association with Paxton & Whitfield since the 1960s. In the 1980s, we began delivering directly to them – they’re about quality and we’re about quality. We’re now fourth-generation – our grandchildren are coming along – so, there’s a lot of Appleby history.” She offers us a sliver of her 12-week-old Cheshire. “We’re proud of the Cheshire,” she admits. “It’s a dying cheese, because people find it hard to get the palate for it, but we make it with our own unpasteurised milk, using vegetarian rennet, mature it on the farm to a ripe age, like this one – it’s a crumbly, complex cheese.” It is, indeed, complex and subtle, perfect to add to a cheese soufflé starter, or as a substitute in a goats’ cheese salad paired with stronger ingredients.
We get to try another superb couple of cheeses from Paxton & Whitfield’s French partner, Fromagerie Androuet, a Parisian producer that has been retailing fine cheeses since 1909. Since 2009, creamy offerings such as the smoky, tangy Comté Androuet, crafted by Marcelle Petite (£8.25/ 250g), and – my favourite of the evening – the excellent Chabichou du Poitou, a goats’ cheese produced by M. Georges Jollet, have graced P & W’s cool basement maturing rooms, which have now been extended. Here, staples such as the stunning Cropwell Bishop Stilton (£5.25/ 250g) and all fresh arrivals are kept at a steady temperature of 5°C until deemed ready to be ‘woken up’. They’re then transferred to the warmer room next door (8°C -10°C), where they are turned, watched and tested until they can be brought up to the shelves.
Shopping at Paxton & Whitfield is a cheese-lover’s dream, the equivalent of visiting a bespoke tailor: the keen, friendly staff make you feel you’re receiving their personal attention, and guide you through the tasting and sampling experience. Thanks to the recession, we may all be cheese-paring for some years to come, but at Paxton & Whitfield, at least, that will always be a pleasurable experience.
Paxton & Whitfield Cheese Tastings (Winter 2011⁄2012)
October 27th – A French Cheese and Wine Odyssey: Pairing classic French cheese and wine
November 22nd – Best of the West: West Country cheese with local cider and ale. Perfect!
January 31st 2012 – The great ‘New Brits’ cheese tour: What’s new and exciting from around the country. Special guest cheesemaker.
February 21st – Proper cheese and beer: Introduction to matching cheese and beer
March 13th – A St. Patrick’s Irish cheese special: With guest speaker from Cooleeney Cheese.
Each event £45 pp. For details, contact Rhuaridh Buchanan/ Caitlin Barrow, 020 7930 0259, firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by: Bryony Weaver