Matching Historic Cheeses to Exceptional Ports – Christmas Selection:
Christmas is coming and with it, there’s always that pressure of what to serve? Fortunately, those sensible people at cheesemeisters Paxton & Whitfield and Taylor’s Port recently held an event at Paxton’s Jermyn St headquarters to help to take the pain out of those festive Port and cheese purchases. The shop is stocked with a fabulous range of dairy delights and and there was a palpable sense of lactic anticipation amongst my fellow attendees as we assembled in the back of the shop. The tasting was presented by experts Amanda Lloyd from Taylor’s alongside cheesemonger, Danielle Bliss, from Paxton & Whitfield and frankly I’m relying on them to boost my knowledge and insight as I’m having friends and family round on Christmas evening for Port and cheese who I want to show off in front of. Paxton & Whitfield opened their first shop in 1797 and now have a group of five. They stock 150 mostly British cheeses and maintain close connections with their cheese maker suppliers. Taylor’s in contrast has only been around since 1692 … and are one of the founding Port houses. In those days British wool would be sent out to Portugal with wines from the Douro coming back. In fact the 4xx Taylor’s logo was a traditional British wool mark.We kicked off proceedings with a glass of Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port (£13). It’s often served with tonic as an aperitif but I’m a big fan of having it neat or on the rocks. I 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 stealing a communist party flag. It makes a great summer’s drink and was beautifully matched with an unpasteurised French goat’s cheese called Valencay. With a salted charcoal ash exterior, the creamy cheese has a real tang and the Port brings out its citrus notes. Next up was Chaource, an unpasteurised and intensely creamy cow’s milk cheese made in Champagne. Made with double cream the cheese has a subtle mushroom flavour and a fluffy white rind. Matched with Taylor’s LBV 2013 (Late Bottled Vintage) (£12) the cheese contrasted beautifully with the black cherry notes of the Port. LBV Ports have been aged in large wooden casks for 4-6 years and will stay good in the bottle for several weeks after opening. Paxton’s 10 Year Old Tawny (£19.95) is the famous cheese shop’s in-house Port which is made for them by Taylor’s. Aged for 10 years in small wooden casks and bottled for immediate decanting it has a delicious raisin/dried fig flavour with a slight hint of wood from the barrels. It was paired with the rind-washed Tete de Moine (monk’s head) from the Alpine Jura area of Switzerland. The cheese is sliced using a ‘Girolle’ slicer (a great gift for an über-foodie) that is specifically designed for Tete de Moine creating attractive rosettes which in Switzerland are served as an aperitif. It has a dry, savoury taste enlivened by the Port’s sweetness. Our fourth cheese was a Mimolette, a nutty umami-flavoured pasteurized hard cheese made with vegetarian rennet from near Lille in the north of France. It’s both salty and sweet and has tremendous history as it was created as a replacement for Gouda when the French were about to go to war with the Dutch. For a perfect Xmas pairing it was matched with Taylor’s Historical Collection Reserve Tawny (£42) which comes in an attractive display box and is bursting with seasonal fruit cake flavours – it’s the perfect Xmas present! Taylor’s 30 Year Old Tawny (£72) is a top of the range product with flavours to match. It’s a subtle blend of caramel, dried fruits, and nuts with a finish that goes on forever. Its cheese companion was an Aged Gouda from Holland, a more mature and richly flavoured take on the popular hard cheese. Paxton’s Vintage 2000 (£34) is another of the in-house Port blends. It has a great depth of flavour and a particularly good structure allowing it to be laid down for another 10 years. It is the Port of choice to go with Paxton’s Stilton but we were trying it with Stichelton, the unpasteurised cheese with traditional rennet that tastes like Stilton used to before it was made with pasteurised milk. It was fantastic combination with the creamy acidity of the cheese being perfectly complemented by the fruitiness of the Port. Our final pairing brought together a powerful salty and tangy raw milk Roquefort – a cheese that was Julius Caesar’s favourite – who knew! – with Taylor’s Quinta De Vargellas 2004 (£30). This is an elegant single estate Port with notes of plum, violets and cherries coming through.
This was a wonderful event where as well as tasting we learnt a lot. Did you know that Port should be served slightly chilled and if served too warm you smell alcohol rather than the fruit notes that give Port its special character? Or that if you don’t have Port glasses then white wine glasses are the best option? Well if you didn’t you do now. My main problem is to decide which of the cheeses and Ports to buy for Xmas – but I’m going to have fun finding out!
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
Unit 6 Willow Court, Bourton Industrial Park, Bourton on the Water, Glos GL54 2HQ Tel: 01451 823460