When Stirling asked if I wanted to investigate Paxton & Whitfield’s Christmas cheese recommendations, we both laughed. I didn’t even need to answer, who WOULDN’T want to head into the flagship Jermyn Street store? Deliciously chilled on another sweltering July day, and heady with the pungent, fantastic aroma of such a variety of my favourite foodstuffs, it was an experience made for me. There to guide me through the quintet of festive fromage was head of retail, Hero Hirsh. We started with Ticklemore, a goats’ milk cheese from South Devon. The milk comes from a variety of goats kept on Button Farm on Dartmoor, so the different blends of milk give the cheese its original flavour – rich and clean with lemon notes. Hero used the Ticklemore in a delicate canape with beetroot, hazelnut and sage on a rosemary wafer.
Next up was a French “triple cream” cheese called Brillat-Savarin Affine. With cream added to the milk to increase the fat content during production, the resulting flavour is as decadent as you might expect. Drum shaped, with a soft texture and a delicate but delicious creamy flavour, this is a great addition to any cheeseboard. Excellent served with champagne to cut through the richness of the cheese, or in Hero’s exquisite canape with coffee syrup, cardamom and pistachio crust, this tastes every bit as good as it sounds.
Maintaining the high standard we had kicked off with, the third cheese presented was a new, seasonal product by the name of Shepherd’s Store, made by the Grubb family of Cashel Farmhouse Cheesemakers on Beechmount Farm, County Tipperary in Southern Ireland. This is a traditional semi-hard European style cheese which is handmade with sheep’s milk. Washed and turned by hand once a week as it matures, the end result is a beautiful cheese with a creamy texture and both sweet and savoury notes. To make it even more special, Shepherd’s Store is only produced between February and September, and then matured for a minimum of six months. Hero used Shepherd’s Store in a sweet little tartlet, alongside Paxton & Whitfield’s Nuts About Prunes preserve for an easy peasy yet gorgeous canape.
All this time I had been eyeing up the alluring blue cheese which was also on our tasting board, and now was the time to indulge. Perl Las didn’t disappoint. A blue cheese handmade on a family farm in West Wales, Perl Las has sea salt rubbed on its rind before being left to mature. If that alone doesn’t prompt you to put it on your Christmas list then I don’t know what kind of cheese-heathen you are, but let me also tell you it has a robust flavour without being overwhelming. Creamy, indulgent and delicious, this was my personal favourite. To demonstrate it’s versatility, Hero paired it with walnuts and spiced Monbazillac jam (another massive hit for me) in a woody chicory leaf. Superb.
We finished with Raclette, a word which can send skiers everywhere into a wistful tastebud nostalgia for potatoes, pickles and meats dipped into molten cheese. Paxton’s Raclette comes from the Savoie region in France, made with raw unpasteurised milk mixed with rennet and cultures. Hero made a clever inverted Raclette canape by putting the gherkin, pickled onion and prosciutto inside a hollowed out half of potato, topped with the melted cheese. Delicious.
Other festive ideas for cheese fans include a place on the Paxton & Whitfield Cheese Tasting Course, a variety of cheese hampers with accessories and equipment and of course vouchers for the store. Personally, I’ll be putting the Monbazillac dessert wine, Potted Blue Stilton with a Tawny Port Jelly Topping and a huge chunk of Perl Las on my list.
For more information about Paxton & Whitfield, including details of festive hampers and cheese celebration ‘cakes’, visit www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk.