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This Britain

Minor British Institutions: Paxton & Whitfield

The best thing about Paxton & Whitfield is the smell. Like the best cheeses, the best cheese shop has a rather heady aroma, an olfactory precursor of caseophiliac delights to follow. In other words, they sell very tasty cheese, and, for such a posh establishment in the heart of St James's in London, are a friendly, unpretentious lot. It has plenty of royal warrants, and was a favourite of Winston Churchill, who once said that "a gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield". Indeed so.

The establishment was first recorded as a partnership in 1797, and the shop claims origins back to 1742 when Sam Cullen set up a cheese stall in Aldwych market. So nearly as old as some of the cheese, then. The shop today bears the names of two partners that Cullen took on, Harry Paxton and Charles Whitfield.

It specialises in bringing the best artisan cheeses to market, about 250 varieties in all. Plus some charming cheese accessories, including a highly desirable miniature cheese pantry. Branches in Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon now, plus a virtual cheesemongers on the web, but that channel doesn't smell quite so good.