Find out where to buy the best pork pies in Britain.
After years of being decried by the health food police, the blessed pork pie is making a comeback.
Every region of the country has its own version. Some add extra ingredients to compliment the pork, while others are content to let the pig oink for itself. Whatever your preference, there is little arguing that it is one of the perfect portable snacks and also one of Britain’s greatest contributions to the world of food.
Although savoury pies have been part of the British culinary landscape, since the middle ages, the pork pie really came into its own at the end of the 18th Century. It developed particularly in regions that were well known for cheese making where whey, the bye product created after the curds are removed, was found to be the perfect feed for rearing pigs. The pies became popular with travellers, who found that the firm pastry casing protected the contents during their journey.
There are many different varieties of pie. Some are made with cured meat, which stays pink after cooking, while others, like the classic Melton Mowbray pork pie use fresh meat. Some add a hard boiled egg to make it a “Gala” pie, while some more modern versions add ingredients that, in truth should result in a police caution.
During my regular stints as a judge at The British Pie Awards, I have encountered pies containing everything from slices of apple, gooseberry jam, chorizo and, perhaps most bizarre of all, a thick layer of curry sauce under the pastry. They are not for me. I am much more of a purist when it comes to my pork pies and below are the five that I think are definitely worth seeking out.
Mrs King’s pies are, in my opinion, the ne plus ultra of pork pies. These golden brown beauties are made to the strict EU regulations, which now define the contents and preparation of a proper Melton Mowbray pork pie. The members of the Clan Hartland make only two thousand pies a week are using only the prescribed six ingredients of pork, lard, flour, water, salt and pepper. The end result is arguably my favourite thing to eat in the whole wide world and would certainly be represented on my last meal tray.
Brays Cottage, run by the charming Sarah Pettegree, is a small scale producer of some of the most beautiful pork pies imaginable. She makes everything herself by hand using prime cuts of locally reared rare breed saddleback pigs, adding just a little onion marmalade to bring out the flavour of the pork. The end result is an award winning pie that is just as good when eaten hot or cold, and believe me I have tried both. She has built up a loyal following amongst the Twitter crowd and the Brays cottage products were even described by critic, Giles Coren as “The “Perfect Pork Pie”. Oh, and she makes a wedding pork pie, which must mean she is due to be canonised at some point in the near future.
When it comes to finding a great pie, you are never going to go too far wrong if you ask a Yorkshireman. Ask most Yorkshiremen and they will point you in the direction of one of the three branches of famous Leeds butcher, Wilsons. Their small traditional pork pies, known in Yorkshire as growlers, use only locally sourced meat and have won numerous national awards. Even more impressive is the fact that they also offer customers the chance to buy a rather splendid celebratory pork pie that is a whopping 9” in diameter. Reason to celebrate indeed.
Every year The Guild of Fine Foods awards a Great Taste Award for the best food products in the country. And, every year, the name of Walter Smith’s, a regional chain of butchers from Birmingham and The Black Country, makes an appearance for their excellent pork pies, even being named “Supreme Champion” in 2007. They prepare their pies using a combination of local free range pork shoulder and belly meat along with a mix of seasonings, spring water and their own proprietary blend of jelly. With this attention to detail it is little wonder that they are often named the “Independent Butcher of The Year”.
I did say that I was a purist when it came to my pork pies and I stand by that. However, the one occasion when I did have to admit that it was possible to improve on perfection. That was when I encountered pork flesh and pork blood reunited after death in the form of a Bradley’s Bakery Pork and Black Pudding Pie at The British Pie Awards. Their normal pies are good, made with superb local pork, crisp pastry and just the right amount of white pepper. But, their pork pie with a thick layer of black pudding hiding under the lid was the most pleasant surprise I’ve had since I managed to get an A in maths at the age of fifteen.
What is your favourite pork pie?
Have you sampled any of the delicious pies I’ve mentioned yourself? Or do you know of any other pork pies that are just as good? Let us know using the comments box below!
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