Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Pork pies: More than you need to know

Good news for Leicestershire. As the BBC reports:
Pork pie-makers in the Melton Mowbray region have been told they can apply to Europe for the same sort of exclusivity enjoyed by Champagne.
A High Court judge has turned down a challenge by Leeds-based Northern Foods aiming to stop the move.
What is so special about a Melton Mowbray pork pie? Andrew Chancellor, writing in Waitrose Food Illustrated, explains:

Many of the offending companies who produce the imitations describe their pies as 'cured', which is precisely what the pork in a real Melton Mowbray pie is not. Ever since it first became popular in the early 19th century as a convenience food that Leicestershire huntsmen could carry in their saddlebags, it was made with fresh, not cured, pork.
This is one of the crucial distinctions between Melton Mowbray and other pork pies. There is nothing wrong with cured pork ... Many people, particularly in the south of England, prefer it, because cured pork looks pink whereas fresh pork looks grey. But finely chopped, fresh pork, seasoned only with pepper and salt, is the essence of the Melton Mowbray pie.
Another essential feature is the pastry that encases it. Originally, this was not eaten but simply used as packaging for the meat, as is still the case in France with the hard, inedible pastry that encases the goose liver in pâté de foie gras en croûte. But, as the Melton Mowbray pork pie developed over the years, the pastry became as important a part as the pork in the whole gastronomic experience.
The pastry in question must be 'hot-water pastry', made only with boiling water, boiling lard (another pork product), flour and salt. And it must be baked with the fresh meat already inside it, and without any external support, such as a tin or a hoop. The pastry case is no longer 'hand-risen', as it used to be, around wooden moulds - it is now machine-made - but the pie still has to stand free when it is placed in the oven.
The final ingredient is pork stock, which is poured in through a hole in the pastry lid after baking to form a jelly. This surrounds and penetrates the meat, which has shrunk a little in the oven.
One thing that Chancellor does not mention is that the pork pie industry grew up in Melton because pigs could be fed on the whey that was a waste product from the local dairies that made Stilton cheese.

A few years ago I was walking from Barrow upon Soar to Melton and stopped for lunch at Six Hills. Finding the pub boarded up, I had to buy lunch at the garage. I chose a "Melton Mowbray pork pie," only to discover that it had been made in Cornwall.

If you want to sample the real thing, visit Dickinson & Morris's shop in the town. And for a list of all the British regional foods that now enjoy protected status look at the European Commission site.

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