Paxton & Whitfield, Jermyn Street
On my way across London to Heathrow the other day, I had a little time to spare so I decided to 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. The neighbourhood still sports a carriage trade feel. It 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). That 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 here, to Paxton & Whitfield, Britain’s oldest cheesemaker. They’ve been around since the mid 18th century. However, Paxton’s have operated this store only ‘recently’—since 1896.
Like everyone else, today, Paxton’s has jumped on the ready to eat market. I was going to say “Grab & Go” but it did seem a tad ‘common’. They proffer a good selection of excellent made in house sandwiches, at lunchtime.
However an impressive array of artisan cheeses is still the mainstay. Paxton’s takes great care in offering only the finest but, above all, mature cheeses that are at their peak. Of note, many of the cheeses on display sit out on the counter, not refrigerated, at least during the day).
I remember going 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.
For pre-flight sustencance, I bought a superb goat cheese and chorizo mini baguette. The cheese was wonderfully gooey. I also bought some Stilton to tuck in my bag for 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. It dissolved with a 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 Paxton’s is no longer 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 see them still there. And, with a cheese-lover’s heaven like this, there’s very good reason they are.