Paxton & Whitfield, Jermyn Street

Paxton's, for the cultured cheese lover

Paxton’s, for the cultured cheese lover

On my way across London to Heathrow the other day, I had a little time to spare, so thought I’d check out my old neighbourhood, St. James, where I used to work. Well, actually, it was really an excuse to drop by Paxton & Whitfield, at 93 Jermyn St., just west of Piccadilly Circus. I toiled, happily, a short walk away, on Bury St.

St. James has an colourful and truly sartorial history: it was developed as a kind of aristocratic enclave by Henry Jermyn in the late 17th century and still sports a carriage trade feel that includes some of the best men’s shoes, shirt and haberdashery stores anywhere in Britain, if not the world.

Our neighbours were wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd (at least their warehouse was).  We conveniently shared a loading bay under the pavement (sidewalk), which meant that it wasn’t unusual to see the odd case of Cutty Sark or Beaujolais sitting there in the morning, often part of some barter scheme.

When we were ‘in town’ I would be dispatched to scrape up lunch at the likes of Fortnum & Mason (preferred source for Baxter’s oxtail soup); and at Paxton & Whitfield, Britain’s oldest cheesemaker, which has been around since the mid 18th century. Paxton’s have operated this store only ‘recently’—since 1896.

Like everyone else, Paxton’s has jumped on the ready to eat market (I was going to say “Grab & Go” but it did seem a tad ‘common’…) with a good selection of excellent made in house sandwiches, at lunchtime.

Just a part of the selection. Too bad I had to catch my flight!

Just a part of the selection. Too bad I had to catch my flight!

However an impressive array of artisan cheeses is still the mainstay and Paxton’s takes great care in offering only the finest but, above all, mature products that are ready to eat, at their peak. It was interesting to note that many of the cheeses on display were sitting out on the counter (not refrigerated—at least during the day).

I remember going there once to buy some Brie de Meaux and finding myself on the receiving end of a discrete interview: Exactly when did I plan to consume the cheese? And how warm (or cold) was my abode? The shop would always have a number of cheeses (stored in their cellar below) in varying stages of maturity.

Even if you don’t have your own handy cheese cellar, Paxton’s has some excellent storage tips.

Their (incredibly informative) site also includes this really handy guide to cheese and wine pairings. Worth bookmarking.

I bought a superb goat cheese and chorizo mini baguette, with wonderfully gooey cheese, for pre-flight sustenance—and a  piece of Stilton to tuck in my bag for later, back home.

I was offered a chance to taste before I bought. It’s a little courtesy that means a lot.  (Try that at Whole Foods!  Although, Vancouver’s Les Amis du Fromage will always oblige).  The small slice of Cropwell Bishop, made specially for Paxton’s, melted in my mouth, a rich dissolve of creamy delight with just enough tang to make it interesting but not at all tart.

According to Paxton’s: Sir Winston Churchill once observed “A gentleman buys his hats at Locks, his shoes at Lobbs, his shirts at Harvey & Hudson, his suits at Huntsman and his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield”.  No mention of Fox (for cigars), though. Interesting.

The staff are as obliging as ever, although no longer quite so carriage-trade formal as they used to be. And the company has changed hands in recent years.  But, still, how good it was to be able to go back and see them still there. And, with a cheese-lover’s heaven like this, there’s very good reason they are.