When one of London’s oldest cheesemonger’s, Paxton & Whitfield, sends an invitation for port and cheese matching, you never know who you might find in the room. This is after all the Queen’s cheese supplier, and, I’ve heard, the store was once a regular indulgence point for Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Byron. Then couple that with the expertise greeting us with white port and tonic cocktails: The monger’s manager, Hero Hirsh and, passionate port aficionado, writer and broadcaster, Jane Parkinson.
The pairing of port and cheese is so historic and yet so under looked. We Brit’s have centuries of melding these solids and liquids together on our palate, but how often do we delve deeper and play with the code? The following is a good list to whet your appetite before treating yourself and others this Christmas to a gastronomic extravaganza that will undoubtedly add some zest to one of our favourite dining rituals.
1. Taylor’s First estate Reserve (£12) - Sinodun Hill
The port is young with plenty of freshness, fruit and acidity, so the creamy cheese has enough room to coat the mouth without dominating. Lovely texture sensations - great match and would please a table of diners all too easily.
2. Taylor’s 2011 Late Bottled Vintage (£15) - Brillat Savarin (£6.50 per 250g)
Beautiful Burgundian creamy cheese with layers of subtle mushroom flavours. The port is more earthy, with rich dark fruits and spice. I found this particularly delicious; one for a quieter more contemplative occasion.
3. Paxton 10 Year Old Tawny 50CL (£19) - Paxton’s Cave Aged Cheddar (£20/Kg)
Tawny port is seductive in its own right; lovely nutty flavours that keep the imbiber sniffing and sipping. Served at fridge temperature, the freshness combined with strong mature cheddar is a meeting of greatness on the palate. Lovely combo!
4. Taylor’s 20 Year Old Tawny (£38) - Gruyere Reserve (£44/kg)
The port served chilled needs time to warm up and release those marmalade and dried fruit flavours. The gruyere has a saltiness to it that balances with the port making this another great match.
5. Taylor’s Quinta De Vargellas 2002 Vintage (£30) - Mimolette (£46/kg)
This northern French cheese coats the mouth in a salty sensation crying out for the vintage port to step in and straighten the course. 2002 is by no means old for a port that can last decades but at 14 years old the ’02 is fresh and vibrant and keen to impress. This is a “moreish” pairing so definitely worth a try.
6. Paxton Vintage 2000 (£32) - Stilton (£24/kg)
Paxton & Whitfield’s award winning handmade Stilton is made by Cropwell Bishop Creamery in Nottinghamshire and tastes incredible (they sell around 6.5 tonnes around the Christmas period alone!). The richness and elegant power of the Stilton is adorable on its own so I’m nervous about introducing a vintage port to the fray. The result of zesty, tangy stilton and the sweet bite of the port wine send ripples of pleasure through the system. It’s the harmonious “horse and carriage” combo and obvious end to a superb tasting session.
I really enjoyed this tasting and so urge all Londoner’s to take at least a couple of the combinations above and try them out. Port is so underrated these days, and represents such good value for what it actually delivers, I can’t understand why it is not more readily consumed, as once it was, by us Brit’s! When it comes to the cheeses, as a nation we appear to be surrounded by cheese at every turn, yet we seldom appreciate it for how good it can be. A good cheesemonger can take you on a journey… just don’t forget the port!
Coming soon: The difference between Ruby and Tawny Port
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From Picasso to Pecorino Wine (not cheese!!)
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