Does a week get any better than National Pie Week? I’ve mentioned many times I’m sure that this is a pie household, what with MGG and her chicken pies, not to mention sampling the best that living near Melton Mowbray has to offer. And since the arrival of Kevin the Kenwood Chef, then there’s been a whole heap more pastry making going on here too.
But if we had to choose our pick of the pies, these are the ones that get our votes:
* My choice is likely to get me ex-communicated around here, but mine goes to Bray’s Cottage. Best pastry, best choice of fillings, and definitely more than just a traditional pork pie. I really love them because there’s no jelly in them (not my thing at all) and I really love the addition of onion marmalade into one of the variants. If I ever ran a deli, I’d stock these, even round here. Sadly, it takes either a delivery or a trip to Norfolk to get them at the moment. A good price to pay!
* MGG has loved chicken pie for as long as I can remember, pretty much always being the answer to the question “what would you like to eat?” Now, what she really likes is a homemade pie with a creamy sauce and bacon, or possibly a M&S one with gravy (she’s a deprived child, she loves gravy and rarely gets it here). But she always looks incredibly happy to open the fridge and find a Pieminister Chicken of Aragon Pie sat in there. Not that it will be sat in there for long. Easier to get hold of these days, but still holding onto the quality, which is great news.
* There is only one pie where a few family members are concerned, and that’s a pork pie from Mrs King’s. Made not very far from us here at Tarver Towers, this is the biggest perk for them of my move here into the Midlands. You don’t have to go that far, as you’ll find them at Borough Market or could order them online from Forman & Field.
So, three choices from three pie lovers during this week to celebrate the great British love affair with pies. What would you choose? And is there a better comfort food?
You might have noticed, I do write about pork pies a reasonable amount, but living this close to Melton Mowbray it shouldn’t really be that surprising. And most of the household is quite partial to a pork pie or two, but I can’t say it would necessarily be something I’d have thought of buying for a Valentine’s Day gift. But as a few people have been looking, then here’s some thoughts for you:
* Whilst heresy round here, my favourite pork pie is not a Melton Mowbray one. Bray’s Cottage Pork Pies have won Gold at the Great Taste Awards, and me over to eating pork pies, so some achievement! For a serious pork pie lover then a three pound pie might do the trick or a lot of smaller ones, take your pick! The addition of onion marmalade makes these a bit different, and the chilli version peps up any lunch box. You can even order a tiered version for your wedding, or a very big party!
* For something a bit fancy, and a bit different, then try the Poachers Pie from Fortnum & Mason. The pork is topped with a lid of delicious Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, and then little sweet onions. This is a bit like a Ploughmans in pie format. Go large for a very impressive pie!
* The second highest rated pie in this house is Mrs King’s Melton Mowbray. They’ve won so many awards it’s almost boring to mention them, but the taste makes it worthwhile. If you want to extend beyond the Melton Mowbray, then there’s the Pork & Blue Stilton, a Game Pie and even a Pork, Chicken, Apricot and Herb Stuffing one. Plenty to go at!
Apologies to Will, particularly as it’s the anniversary of his birth and death on the same day, but St George’s Day really should be a call for celebrating what’s great in English food. Let the French scoff, but the renaissance, revival and reinvention of British food hasn’t left a corner of this sceptred isle untouched. But without a brewery with a black beer to push the day, celebrating St George’s Day has never really taken off to the same extent.
So here’s a few things I think you could get in to create your own St George’s Day feast.
* What to toast the day with? Well, if you fancy beer, then what about ordering in the Champion Beer Box from Adnams? I can’t think of a more English environment than Southwold, so this mix of their best beers would seem like a great way to get things started. Or what about a G&T, with something like SW4 gin, part of the vanguard of new London gins. There again if it has to be fizz, then I would say it has to be Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2003, not long since pronounced best in the world in blind tastings.
* Main course? Well, perhaps we have to go with stereotypes, as what can top a really fabulous plate of roast beef? But of course you have to get great English beef to start with. For me, I would go local and buy from Northfield Farm, well renowned for their beef. Their beef is hung for 3 to 4 weeks and comes from either Dexters or White Park Cattle, and the flavours and textures have always been incredible. They are a welcome sight at any country or food fair in our area, and are often at Borough Market I understand.
* There are so many choices for dessert, but it feels like it should be a proper pudding. MGG would choose Sticky Toffee Pudding, and she is very fond of the Cartmel one. I’d also be tempted to buy a Bakewell Pudding, as opposed to a tart, for something very English but slightly different.
To be honest, if you can’t be bothered to go mad with 4 courses, then I would say a few really good sausages, some great black pudding and some great bread, and you’re ready to go. A great English sausage and black pudding sandwich with a glass of Vimto and I defy you not to toast St George’s health!
I have no idea what’s been going on out there, but all of a sudden I’ve had a whole heap of people ending up at the site looking for the answer to one question: what is the difference between a mini Melton Mowbray pork pie and a mini pork pie?
I did rather cheekily tweet that the answer was rather obvious and already in the question, but must remember that not everyone is so close to the differences. We live as part of Melton Borough Council and therefore the pork pie figures large in our life around here. I am not saying it’s the only reason we live here but…well, put it this way, when you’ve got Stilton and pork pies, what more could you want?
In case you didn’t already know, a Melton Mowbray pork pie has Protected Geographical Indication status, meaning it has to come from a specific area , and has distinct characteristics. Its sides are bow shaped, as it is baked free standing rather than in a tin of some description, and it uses fresh pork, not cured, giving the meat a more grey appearance, not pink. The meat must be pure chopped pork, as opposed to minced, and you’ll get a good amount of jelly and seasoning.
If you want to know about the history of the Melton Mowbray pork pie (and it is interesting in terms of clever cooks turning a problem into a profitable business) then I recommend a read of Rupert Matthews’ Leicestershire Food & Drink. The book covers the pie’s history from humble beginnings through to protected status, and also covers that other great protected product of the area, Stilton.
Never mind all that, what about eating them? Well, there are 10 manufacturers who belong to the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association. Here’s my thoughts, coloured completely by the big pork pie lover in the house, who has worked through them all!
1. Dickinson & Morris – if you came to Melton Mowbray, then Dickinson & Morris is the most visible pork pie manufacturer in the town. You can possibly even see a demonstration of how the pies were made. You don’t even need to come to Melton as most of the big supermarkets carry them. A number of family members proclaim them pretty good, especially the hand raised one. But you will have to go to the shop for that one. They do good hampers of local produce which I have sent to my awkward to buy for relatives a couple of times, and they have been well received.
2. Mrs King’s – I don’t know how many more accolades Mrs King’s needs. One of Rick Stein’s Food Heroes, and also features in Simon Majumdar’s Eat My Globe, this is also MGG’s favourite and features on the lunchtime menu at our local, and several others in the area. Generally we buy this ready to be cooked at home, where you also add in the jelly as well. Or not, depending on your preference. This is an old family company, and there are a number of stockists around the country, but they don’t have a website. Give them a ring on the phone. Or if you are in Nottingham then stop in the excellent cheese shop in Flying Horse Walk, they definitely stock them.
3. Brockleby’s – I’ve featured these before, but the pies from Brockleby’s are the only certified organic Melton Mowbray pork pie. The pork is from rare breed pigs, either at the farm or from neighbouring ones. These are worth the trip out to the farm shop, or you’ll find Ian and his team at many of the farmer’s markets in the area. Or, if you’re posh, then Daylesford Organics carry them too!
4. Pork Farms – you know what, I don’t buy their pork pies, or any other of their products. I am amazed they are in the organisation. My view, and that of these tasters, is don’t waste your money.
5. Northfield Farm – another stalwart of local food festivals, normally cooking up very tasty sausages and burgers, but also make a very good Melton Mowbray pork pie. Northfield are really big on rare breeds, and the pork comes from their pigs. Pies are hand raised and baked without support, in the traditional manner. You can order online, and I highly recommend their burgers as well.
6. F Bailey & Son – a small, traditional butcher, this is stocked by our local butcher, and is a good standby pie for our household. This is a slight variation, as this is baked in a mould, so not entirely traditional.
7. Nelsons of Stamford – if you fancy somewhere a bit different on the pie run, then head to Stamford and get one from Nelsons. Stamford is lovely, and Nelsons not only make a pork pie but some great tasting Lincolnshire sausage as well. The pies have been feted with over 50 medals, and there has been a butchers carrying the Nelson name in Stamford since 1826. Whilst you’re in Stamford, you might want to stop by the Adnams shop, great beer and wine selection, bound to be something good to go with your pie!
8. Patricks – we have failed, I am sorry. For some reason this one has passed us by. They’ve been in business over 20 years, so I guess they know what they are doing.
9. Chappell’s Fine Foods – look for these labelled as Forryans Melton Mowbray Pork Pies. Again, nearly 40 years of experience, following the traditional methods, this gets rated as per the company name: fine.
10. Walkers Charnwood Bakery – producing a lot of the supermarket own brand Melton Mowbray pork pies, you can also buy this under their own name of Walkers, but mainly just here in the East Midlands. But when we have so much choice, it’s a rare moment when we do.
I was intrigued to suddenly receive a catalogue from Forman & Field. I always seem to get a very random selection of catalogues, but this one ticked a lot of the right boxes for me.
And I did a bit of research on Twitter to see what the reaction was, and what other people’s experiences had been. I only got positive experiences back, which may mean it’s all good. Or those who have had bad experiences aren’t on Twitter.
If, like me, you’re not familiar with them, the starting point appears to be in smoked salmon, with the parent company H Forman & Son having been in the stuff for over 100 years. They are most famous for the London cure, which is a much lighter process, as it is cured with rock salt first and then given just a very light smoke. You can buy a few slices, or a whole side plus all the kit you would need to do it properly yourself.
The three cure gravadlax got a thumbs ups, which is certainly unusual and tasty sounding. Not everywhere will you come across dill, beetroot and wasabi cures! Looks very nice too, and at just over £5 is a nice indulgent treat for any foodie, either for yourself or as a gift. Or for even more indulgent cues, then the potted lobster also got some very good feedback. This is really good looking, and perhaps less difficult for someone to work out as a gift, but definitely with a hint of luxury. A recipient of a Great Taste Award, the lobster is potted in lobster infused butter and chives, so you’re definitely guaranteed a full on flavour.
But it’s certainly not all about the fish. There were positive comments for the poussins, and you’ll also find unusual things like porchetta, suckling pig and mutton, or unusual cuts like a three bird roast and game roulade. Got a sweet tooth? Thumbs up went to the Tunisian puddings, Christmas Panettone and Butter Pudding, and Nadell’s Macaroons, which were favourably compared to Laduree.
There are some great British suppliers pulled together here. From this neck of the woods there is Lincolnshire plum loaf from Myers, Colston Bassett Stilton and Mrs King’s pork pies. If they’ve selected that quality from our local produce, that gives me great confidence in the suppliers they have chosen to work with. So if you wanted to put together a meal wtih good ingredients from around the UK, this looks like a good one stop shop as an alternative to a local supplier.
These are also wonderful choices for gifts for food lovers, whether you buy single ingredients or some of their interesting choices of hampers. The Smokehouse Crate has a great selection to work through: smoked salmon, smoked salmon pate, the aforementioned potted lobster, smoked tuna, sweet mustard and dill sauce, and keta caviar. All this in a handsome wooden crate for just under £80. Not cheap, but would you really want cheap versions of these products? For under £30, I would also have a look at the Perfect Parfait set, good choice for a very reasonable price.
So, this seems like a great source of great British produce, and for that reason I would most definitely consider shopping with them. Worth adding to your favourites I would say. Should you be in the neighbourhood, they also have opened a restaurant at their HQ, check out the review over on the Dos Hermanos blog. I’d go!