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Christmas Port and Cheese Tasting.
In this current climate of political uncertainty, how can we possibly know which ports to match with our Christmas cheeseboard? So I’m delighted to have been invited to Paxton & Whitfield Cheesemongers in Jermyn Street for a Fonseca port and cheese matching event to get some answers to this pressing question. The event was hosted by Amanda Lloyd from Fonseca alongside cheesemonger, Alan Watson, from Paxton & Whitfield, who has recently been crowned the 2019 Young Cheesemonger of the Year. Fonseca’s first vintage port was released in 1840 and the brand is part of the Fladgate partnership alongside the better known Taylor’s and Croft Port brands. But although Fonseca has not had the same visibility in the UK, it is regarded as one of the top port houses with its three estates Cruzeiro, Panascal, Santo António producing consistently fine vintages. Paxton & Whitfield opened their first shop in 1797 and now have a group of four shops as well as a coveted Royal Warrant They stock 150 mostly British cheeses and maintain close connections with their cheesemaker suppliers. After some brief introductions, we started our tasting with one of my favourite drinks – a white Port – perfect as an aperitif or a summer cooler with ice and tonic. Fonseca Siroco – RRP £17.00 – was first introduced in the 1950s and was named after the warm wind which blows over the Mediterranean from North Africa. It is relatively dry for a port with the grape cultivation taking place on the cooler, higher vineyards of the Douro Valley. Ageing in small oak vats gives Siroco its smoothness as well as its attractive ripe fruit flavours and delicate nuttiness. It was matched with a hard, dry and crumbly Pecorino style cheese called Berkswell (£40.00/kg) made by Steven Fletcher at Ram Hall Farm, a small dairy in Warwickshire. Fruity and with notes of Macadamia nuts, Berkswell is made with unpasteurised ewes’ milk and traditional rennet and was awarded Supreme Champion at the 2017 Artisan Cheese Awards. Fonseca Bin 27 – RRP £13.50 – is a blend of selected reserve Ports matured in large seasoned oak vats with big fruity flavours of blackberry, cassis, cherry and plums as well as spice notes coming through. It has a deep ruby colour with a velvety texture and was delicious paired with an earthy, unpasteurised Sparkenhoe Red Leicester (£25.00/kg) produced with traditional rennet and raw milk and then coloured with annatto. The Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Company who make Sparkenhoe have revived the tradition of making Red Leicester which had died out in the 1950s and the cheese shows complex mellow flavours with hints of fruit and nuts and deep caramel and liquorice undertones. Fonseca Terra Prima Organic – RRP £18.00 – is a stylish reserve ruby Port full of fresh and vibrant blackberry, plum and cherry flavours with lovely acidity. Fonseca was one of the pioneers in Port production of certified organic viticulture and this is a wonderfully rich, concentrated wine with great flavour and texture. It was accompanied from Southern Ireland by an 11 month aged Gouda style cheese called Mossfield (£39.00/kg) made from organic, pasteurised cows’ milk with vegetarian rennet. Rich in colour, the cheese has the unmistakable full flavour of a Gouda with a particularly smooth finish.
Fonseca Crusted – RRP £18.00 – is made from a blend of foot-trodden grapes, aged up to four years in large wooden vats and then for three years in the bottle with no filtration creating a crust and a wine that needs to be decanted. With an opulent sweetness and flavours of dark berries, eucalyptus and raisins Fonseca Crusted is a great value Port, with the ‘crusted’ wines rightly regarded as a “Poor Man’s Vintage’. It’s also a fantastic match with a high salt cheese such as our next selection, an aged, washed curd, traditional farmhouse Gouda (£38.00/kg) made from unpasteurised cows’ milk with traditional rennet by a cheesemaker called Finn in his late 70s near Utrecht. This Gouda has a lovely calcium crunch, sweet nutty tones and an unexpected salted caramel finish. Our next Port was a Paxton’s own label wine. Paxton’s 10 year Old Tawny – RRP £19.95 – as is traditional with a Tawny has been matured in oak casks for ten years before being bottled creating a wine that is a soft tawny brown with mellow and elegant flavours combining delicate wood notes with rich aromas of mature fruit. Another great flavour partnership was established with our next cheese – Beauvale (£29.00/kg) – a creamy blue cheese from the award-winning Cropwell Bishop Creamery made from pasteurised milk with traditional rennet. Beauvale becomes runnier in the centre with age, in the way you would expect from a Gorgonzola Dolce but this wonderful cheese, which was awarded Best Blue at the 2017 British Cheese Awards, has less acidity than the Italian blues. Fonseca Guimaraens 2004 – RRP £28.00 – is a more approachable wine than the classic vintages although made from the same blend. With big, luscious berry flavours this unfiltered Port offers exceptional value. The matched Stichelton (£33.00/kg) holds a special position in UK cheese culture as it is made in Nottinghamshire by Joe Schneider in the traditional Stilton blue cheese style but using unpasteurised cows milk. Stichelton has deliciously complex flavours that change with the seasons and develop with age. The texture is creamy and buttery with spicy notes come through from the blueing. Paxton’s Vintage 2000 – RRP £35.00 – For our last tasting it was back to Paxton’s own label Ports with the classic rich and full-bodied flavour profile of Paxton’s Vintage 2000. Made with foot trodden grapes, matured for a short time in wooden casks and bottled when young without filtering it has notes of dried fruits and is the traditional pairing with blue cheeses and other strong styles. So it was a no-brainer to pair it with Stilton PDO (£27.00/kg) with its herby tang and rich creaminess, creamy yellow colour and an even spread of blue-green veins.
Hopefully, this will have given you some new ideas about your Christmas Port and cheese selections, but if you need any more help, I urge you to visit Paxton & Whitfield where there are a team of experts on hand to help you create the perfect Christmas cheeseboard and pair it with the best possible ports.
Paxton & Whitfield,
93 Jermyn Street,
London SW1Y 6JE
For more about Fonseca, check their website – http://www.fonseca.pt/
Looking for some cheese recipes? take a look at Madeleine’s suggestion for a Comté cheese salad or at Fiona’s truffled Mac and Cheese which would work well to use up any of those leftovers you might have after Christmas