Normally we feature only permanent, bricks-and-mortar shops in this series, but in the case of Paxton and Whitfield’s new Chelsea Green pop-up, we’ve made an exception. There are several reasons for this. Launched mid-November, the pop-up is around until April 2015, which, to be honest, is longer than many new delis survive these days. After April, there are some building works to be done, and once these are completed, they have the option to become permanent. Paxton and Whitfield will make the decision based on how they’ve traded up to then. Just like the short-lived delis, then, it’s the same principle: use it or lose it.
The main reason we want to tell you about this rare new branch, however, is that Paxton and Whitfield is a hugely iconic brand. As London’s oldest cheesemonger, they’ve been trading since 1797, and in fact, started life as a cheese stall in Aldwych Market even earlier, in 1742. They supply to the royal household, having held royal warrants for several kings and queens since the mid-nineteenth century. Winston Churchill once remarked, “a gentleman only buys… his cheese at Paxton and Whitfield.” They also supply to Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Harrods; plus top restaurants such as the Caprice Holdings group and The Goring. It’s safe to say, then, that unlike most blink-and-you’ve-missed-them pop-ups, the P&W brand has longevity.
Unlike the sumptuous grandness of the flagship in Piccadilly, the Chelsea shop has a sparse, minimalist look that’s very contemporary. It’s located in the foodie hub of Chelsea Green, round the corner from the excellent Andreas Veg, The Chelsea Fishmonger and Jago butcher’s; plus a wine merchant and a couple of delis. Inside you’ll find an open counter displaying hard cheeses (mostly British ones) to one side, and a fridge at the back filled with soft and semi-soft fromage such as gorgonzola and camembert from France and the Continent. As a nod to the area’s French population and local tastes, there’s a wider selection of French varieties here than at the Piccadilly store (which focuses more on British varieties). The French cheeses are from the renowned cheesemonger Androuet in Paris, which in turn sells P&W’s British range in France — a strong partnership that’s been going for many years.
All the British classics are present and correct, including nettle-wrapped Cornish yarg, Westcombe cheddar, Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire, Berkswell, Gorwydd Caerphilly, and Appleby’s Cheshire. We tasted deeply savoury, Marmite-y Cropwell Bishop stilton; and smooth, creamy mossfield organic, an Irish cheese with a nutty, fruity, tangy flavour that’s popular with those looking for an alternative to cheddar. Another versatile Irish cheese we love is gubbeen (£22/kg), with a robust flavour suitable for both nibbling and cooking.
French goats cheeses that caught our attention include selles-sur-cher (£6.95 each), a naturally rinded, smoky-tasting variety from Loire Valley; mothais sur feuille (£7.50 each) wrapped in chestnut leaves; and ste maure (£10.75 each), a cylindrical fromage with a grey mould that has a straw in its centre to help keep its shape. There’s also morbier (£22/kg), traditionally made by the makers of comté that has a layer of ash running through it; smoked ceodre (£6.25 each), a type of cheddar from Dorset smoked over oak chips; and gjetost (£33/kg) in distinctive blue packaging: an unusual sweet, fudgy goats cheese made from boiled whey, eaten for breakfast in Norway. All the cheeses here are clearly labelled with useful information: the type of milk used, whether it contains traditional or vegetarian rennet, if it’s pasteurised or unpasteurised, and where it’s made.
Referring to the festive season, we ask what we should we take to a Christmas bash or a smart cheese and wine party. Shop manager Hero Hirsh recommends individual fromage with big personalities, such as French brie-style coulommiers; or the British alternative Waterloo, also a brie-style cheese, made from Jersey milk in Berkshire. And what should be on our cheeseboard on Christmas Day? She suggests three favourites: Cropwell Bishop stilton (“I have to have it”); a classic cheddar such as Montgomery; and the show-stopping brie aux truffes (£60/kg). The latter is made in-house by layering minced black truffles in between layers of unpasteurised brie de meaux and brillat-savarin, and infusing the whole lot for a couple of days. It has a real wow factor: the beautiful balance of savoury, earthy, slightly pungent flavours combined with a mellow, creamy mouthfeel is simply heavenly.
The truffle cheese is also available in the form of a DIY gift set (£55) containing brie de nangis (1kg), brillat savarin (200g) and a 25g jar of sliced black truffles in oil. P&W’s iconic potted stilton in small (£9.95), medium (£17) and large (£26) jars are also hugely popular at this time of the year. Also available are cheese hampers, biscuits for cheese, crackers (£2.99-£3.85) in flavours like malt or celery and sea salt, honeys, fruit cheeses, confits (£3.99) in varieties such as quince and apple or 'white fig', and curiosities such as shredded pork with or without sloe gin. They’ve worked with carefully selected producers to develop their own-label chutneys and pickles, and condiments such as Nuts About Figs (£2.95), a rich, sticky fig and walnut paste made in the French Pyrenees. Brandy butter, mulling syrup, fruitcakes and loaves, and Meg Rivers mini Christmas cakes (£2.95) are seasonal treats; and there are also top-quality cheeseboards, cheese knives, cheese graters, fondue sets and books on cheese. As more of us are making a variety of cheeses at home these days (it’s a huge trend), it’s a delight to find cheese-making kits here — which, Hirsh points out, are also very popular with restaurants that make their own.
Unique to this shop is a ‘cheeseboard service’, where you can take your own cheeseboard to have it dressed for dinner parties, family suppers and Christmas meals. You drop your cheeseboard off in the morning, and wonderfully friendly and knowledgeable staff will create your bespoke board according to your tastes, budget and the occasion. Cheese name cards and information sheets are also provided; and then you can pick up your dressed board in the afternoon. Prices vary according to what you order, but start at around £25 for four. Plenty of advice, tips and tastings are available; and in future, there are plans to invite cheese makers, too. So this ambitious pop-up looks like it’s here to stay.
Paxton and Whitfield, 26 Cale Street, Chelsea Green, London SW3 3QU. Tel: 020 7584 0751.