As I arrived at Benugo in St Pancras International on Wednesday morning, I was hit by memories of the many Saturday Kitchen shoots that started with a pre 7am meet with the crew on that very spot. It was our favourite place to go for a cuppa and a Mexican breakfast melt. Early morning heaven! But today I was confronted by a dilemma. With the prospect of a full day tasting pies at the 8th annual British Pie Awards, how much should I eat for breakfast? Obviously I was keen to avoid pastry but would a hot flatbread filled with chorizo, cheese, spinach and egg be a mistake? Being no stranger to food tastings and judging, my experience did me justice: I guessed that while there would be 819 entries from 132 producers from all over the UK – I knew I wouldn’t be tasting all of them and I’d probably only be trying a sliver of each… And that was a good couple of hours away!
So with a decent breakfast in my tummy, I arrived at Leicester to make m train change and who do I bump into? Mr Olly Smith on his way to the pie awards to film with the Saturday Kitchen wine crew. It really was like old times! And we were heading to the same venue: St Mary’s church in the heart of Melton Mowbray, the home of arguably the most famous pies in the land. (Move over Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett!). I had last visited Melton Mowbray last year on a Saturday Kitchen shoot with the lovely Jane Parkinson and it was lovely to be back.
The church was full of ovens, people milling about in aprons and the heady smell of hot meat and pastry. Perfect! Over 100 judges including me were briefed and divided among the 20 categories of pie. I wondered what table I would be on (to be honest I would have been a little disappointed if I’d been on a vegetarian pie table or indeed a sweet pie table as from an early age I just LOVED meat pies!) This may have something to do with my life long weight fluctuation…. Well that and my love of cider.
Looking at the categories list, I found out that I was on table number one: The Metlon Mowbray Pork Pie Table. Wow! Just Wow! Not only was I here judging these prestigious awards but I was basically on the top table. I have always adored a pork pie to the point of boring my friends with my pie obsession, so this really was a great day! Judging with me was expert pie maker Richard Watkin from Watkins Butchers in Grantham. What Richard doesn’t know about making a good pork pie isn’t worth knowing. This expertise coupled with the 36 years of pork pie eating that I have under my belt, meant this was a good pairing.
After a blessing of the pies to the tune of ‘American Pie’ conducted by the vicar of the church (I kid you not) we got underway. While Richard and I were able to focus on a specific type of pie for the day, other tables had a much more diverse job. There were tables for such categories ‘Pub Pies’ and ‘Regal Pies’ (pies fit for Her Majesty The Queens 90th birthday celebrations) which had many different tastes and flavours to judge. We were lucky that our focus was on pies that were pretty similar. We all know what we want from a good Melton
Mowbray. My favourite qualities are short biscuity pastry on the bottom with a good fill of flavoursome pork meat exuding a little peppery kick at the end. But would these pies give us what we want? There were 6 main judging criteria: Appearance (Inc glaze and finish) / Baking Inc excessive boil out) / Pastry thickness / Pastry Texture and Taste / Filling (Inc jelly) / Filling Texture and Taste. So we really had to analyse these pies! It’s not just an excuse for a giant ploughmans.
While busily tasting and marking, I noticed a table with pasties on it. This I thought was a little controversial. Is a pasty a pie? It’s one of those questions that could inspire a million dissertations, much like the question about whether a Jaffa Cake is a cake or a biscuit? Anyway, it would appear that something in this category was particularly good because it won the supreme champion award. A ‘Beef Skirt & Vegetable Pastie’ made by A.F. Huddleston Butchers took the trophy. Gosh! I wasn’t expecting that! Not only is it a pasty, but it’s not even
Cornish! This pasty actually comes from Windermere in Cumbria. I am sure the pie and pasty making community are a tizz with gossip about such a decision but luckily the lovely Matthew O’Callaghan, Chairman of the British Pie Awards and the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association is on hand to clear things up: “I know many will be surprised to see a pasty winning the British Pie Awards, but the definition of a pie is a filling totally encased in pastry – pies come in all shapes including round pies, square pies and pasties.”
So there we are. While our top pie didn’t take the supreme champion trophy, I can reveal the results from our table. Out of the13 entries, our class champion in the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie category was the Dickinson & Morris pie, closely followed by F. Bailey & Son’s pie and Leesons Family Butchers pie which both came highly commended by Richard and I.
As a true pie lover, I loved every second of the day and as I was handed a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie as I left, I was thankful but I knew that it would have to stay in the fridge for a few days: I’d had my fill of meat and pastry for a few days! That brocolli I bought at St Pancras was exactly what I needed to nibble on the way home, but today might be the day that the pie comes out… With a drop of cold cider on the side. 😉
Find out more about the British Pie Awards at www.britishpieawards.co.uk