For a simple supper or celebratory dinner, choose Cheese from Paxton & Whitfield with hampers and gifts galore.
Savoury or Sweet that is the question. At the end of a delicious dinner, do you prefer to indulge in a rich dessert or order the Cheese board.?
Here it is, on the back of the menu.
How, instead of a pudding, an extra fiver
will buy you the choice of the Cheese Room.
It shines in the corner, a treasury,
the moony glow of the cheeses walled round
with glass. As soon as she sees it, she’s lost.
From ‘The Cheese Room’, Judy Brown
The fromage-loving French very wisely first sample the Brie and Comté, before finishing with, perhaps, Tarte Tatin or Mousse au Chocolat.
It is often assumed that women, in particular, are addicted to chocolate but, no, many of us would prefer a gift of the finest cheese for birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter.
Whatever the occasion or just a weekend treat, this is just the time to enjoy quality food and drink at home: plan a wine & cheese party, family supper or celebratory dinner party. Instead of throwing a block of polythene-wrapped mousetrap cheddar into your supermarket basket, take a virtual trip to Paxton & Whitfield, Britain’s leading cheesemonger for over 200 years, sourcing and maturing exceptional cheeses.
Before describing my tasty feast of three Scottish cheeses, let’s look back at the inspirational story behind the founding of Paxton & Whitfield and its heritage.
The original idea began in 1742 when Stephen Cullum set up a cheese stall in Aldwych market, before his son Sam moved the business to premises near Jermyn Street – where there is still a shop today. He also took on two new partners – Harry Paxton and Charles Whitfield, whose names would formally establish the company in 1797. Its reputation was sealed in 1850 when it received the Royal Warrant as cheesemonger to HM Queen Victoria.
Paxton’s has always been a market leader, working with British Artisan cheesemakers and importing the best from Europe, and as Winston Churchill once observed “a gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield“. Today, the company maintains Royal Warrants from Her Majesty The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales.
So now it’s time to share my experience of tasting and testing three Artisan cheeses from different geographical regions of Scotland. The large cardboard box of cheese was kept fresh and insulated with an ice pack and wool blanket, the overnight delivery ensuring a swift arrival.
Paxton’s compiled this delicious selection to sample on a tour from the Western Isles to the Moray Firth and Royal Deeside.
Isle of Mull Farmhouse
As part of the Inner Hebrides, a short ferry ride from Oban, is the Isle of Mull where in 1979, Jeff and Chris Reade followed their dream, moving with their four boys from Somerset to take over Sgriob-ruadh Farm, near the colourful, waterfront town of Tobermory. The only dairy farm on the island, the Reade family continues to run this successful family business.
All of the cheese is made with unpasteurised milk from their herd of mainly Friesian, and also Ayrshire, Jersey and Brown Swiss cows, fed on grass and whisky grain husks, called Draff, from the Tobermory Distillery.
Every morning, the fresh milk is taken directly from the milking parlour to the cheese-making vat. As the cheese is unpasteurised it takes on the character of the seasons and in winter, it’s almost white in colour with an occasional blue vein as a mark of maturity.
The traditional Farmhouse cheddar has been handcrafted here for over forty years, most recently winning Gold Awards for Artisan Cheese and Best Scottish cheese.
Taste Test: Richly smooth with a slightly crumbly texture, super creamy with a tangy, salty taste and you may detect a soft boozy note too.!
Serve with your preference for crisp crackers, light, thin water biscuits, or traditional oatcakes. The traditional accompaniment of a savoury relish would be ideal, grapes and quince jam. For a heartier meal, grill a slab on wholemeal toast and serve with sweet onion chutney, and on the side, a Stout or even better, a dram of Tobermory single malt.
Connage Highland Dairy is also on a family-run farm in Ardersier, Inverness, founded by Hamish Clark and today run by his two sons, Callum and Cameron and their wives. They have an organic dairy herd of 140 cows, mainly Holstein Friesian with some Jersey crosses and Norwegian Reds which graze on clover pastures along the shore of the Moray Firth.
Brie is the most famous French cheese, renowned as “The King of Cheeses,” named after the region where it was originally created – Brie De Meaux AOC was first created in the Middle Ages by the monks of the Priory of Rueil en Brie.
For their award-winning Clava Brie, the Connage cheesemakers ladle the very delicate curd by hand into moulds and mature in a temperature controlled store. The cheese then develops a soft white rind before being individually hand wrapped. This is organic and suitable for vegetarians.
Taste Test: This magnolia-tinted wedge just looks so artistic, with its smooth white rind, and then sample the earthy, mushroom flavour. This is a distinctive, finely crafted delicacy.
Brie is at its classic best when ripe, creamy and buttery, served with crackers or crusty bread, especially a French Baguette. This cheese is well complemented with walnuts, honey and Plum chutney, to enhance the sweetness, and a glass of fine wine – a crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc or a soft Pinot Noir.
The Cambus O’May Cheese Company is located near charming village of Ballater in Royal Deeside. A sixth generation cheesemaker, Alex Reid makes Scottish, artisanal cheese using the traditional crafts passed down from his grandmother.
“Our recipes haven’t changed in over 50 years nor has the way we make our cheese. Pure, unadulterated, unpasteurised goodness. Made with love to be consumed with passion.” Alex Reid
Auld Reekie is inspired by the local smoking methods for speciality smoked venison and salmon in Royal Deeside. This handmade cheese is lightly smoked over whisky barrel shavings which give the creamery an aromatic whisky distillery atmosphere.
The name is taken from the old slang term for Edinburgh due to chimney smoke, and where by 1777 there were 400 illicit distilleries, producing a thick smog which blackened the grand sandstone buildings.
This two day, cow’s milk curd is carefully developed to combine the flavours and textures of traditional cheddar-like cheese with a delicate wood and whisky finish.
Taste Test: This is hard, amber-coloured with a crumbly texture. The aroma ‘reeks’ with a pungent smokiness, while the flavour is more mellow, richly creamy with an underlying hint of earthy peat from the whisky-scented wood.
A good partnership for this fragrant cheese would be a fruit chutney, such as fig or plum & apple. And to drink? The local Royal Lochnagar Distillery is on the River Dee near Balmoral Castle – their 12 year old single malt offers notes of soft smoke, hay, oak and gingerbread. Alternatively, what could be more appropriate than the punchy blended malt from Islay, Auld Reekie, richly peaty, with spices and fruity sweetness.
If this has whetted your appetite, take a look at the range of cheese on offer at Paxton & Whitfield; there are two London stores, but it’s so easy to browse and buy on line for home delivery. The colourfully illustrated website is user friendly with a clear menu for Cheese Boards, Hampers, Gifts, Drinks, (Port, wine, beers), seasonal events and celebratory diary dates.
Valentine’s Day purchases include free UK* delivery on all orders over £40. Choose from the exclusive selection of cheese for your date night at home or a special romantic gift.
The finest English and French, heart-shaped, artisan cheeses including limited edition truffled Coeur de Neufchâtel, with chutneys and crackers, offers a restaurant-quality Valentine’s cheese board delivered to your door.
Coeur de Neufchâtel is one of Normandy’s oldest cheeses, it’s said that milk maids would present these love tokens to knights heading off to fight in the 100 years war.
Review from March 2020: “I bought the Valentine’s cheese box for my partner. The cheeses were of exceptional quality and married perfectly with the charcoal crackers and the sweetness of the fig chutney. 5 stars.”
And with Easter on the horizon, instead of chocolate eggs, why not enjoy a platter of cheese for a savoury treat. ?
For all information, range of cheese, hampers, gift boxes, drinks and on line purchase:
Paxton & Whitfield supplies Artisan cheeses and fine food products to Selfridges; Harvey Nichols and Harrods, as well as leading restaurants and hotels including several Michelin-starred establishments.