Melton Mowbray - home to Britain’s only PGI pie product - once again played host to the British Pie Awards, and this year saw the number of entries across 18 categories rocket to over 900. Judges included Phil Vickery, Rachel Green, Xanthe Clay, Charles Campion, and my good self, as well as a host of bakers, butchers, and food service professionals.
Interestingly 75% of entries this year came from small producers (businesses with fewer than 10 employees), rather than the big firms as in previous years. This then is the event to grasp the scale of Britain’s love affair with pie, and from what I saw, the results were impressive. Attention to detail and appearance have improved since I attended the first BPA in 2009.
Of course some things are destined never to be encased in pastry (Thai curry being a prime example), whilst other flavours remain classics: apple and pork, steak and kidney, beef and ale. However, there were some genuinely interesting combinations too... I heard a rumour about a fantastic chicken and fennel pie, and a pie in the category I judged (savoury) featured salt beef and gherkins between two layers of flavourful minced pork; a sort of New York Deli pie, if you will.
A new category this year was Celebration Pie, the criteria being that the pie had to be showy and fun. Some of the examples were certainly that, including a massive beauty with a rooster on top.
Come on you Shrimps!
Graham Aimson, head chef for Morecambe FC (nickname being the shrimps), took the ultimate prize last year, proving that in the North West of England the production of pies is taken very seriously. This year he missed out on that, but did take home a clutch of awards including best football pie, best vegetarian pie, best ‘other meat’ pie and best small producer. It’s a testament to Graham’s efforts that since his arrival at the club, and with support from the management, he’s turned things around in just a few years. “We make everything fresh on match day, and use local suppliers where possible," he tells me. Alas Graham’s four trophies and two from last year are the only silverware the club’s won recently, but if the players could match the skills of the chefs, things would be very different.
The champion of champions, pie of pies
Mark Beeston, from Dunkleys, has a number plate that reads ‘Pie Dr’. Dunkleys supply a number of pubs with their pies, and their winner in the pub pie category - and supreme champion - was a chicken, ham hock, mushroom and buttered leek pie in a suet pastry crust. Watch the above video to hear Mark describe exactly how it’s made. They also picked up best celebration pie with a trio of mini pies (venison, chicken and mushroom and a steak pasty). Well done them.
Hurray for the pie
A love of pie stretches throughout this land: the traditional steak pie on New Year's Day in Scotland; meat pies at the footie; pork pies at Christmas; the cockney’s pie and mash; West Country pasties... all these prove that bits of an animal, vegetable or fruit cooked in a pastry case is guaranteed to appeal wherever you find yourself in Britain. But it’s telling that pies from pubs and a football ground have, completely objectively, been lauded by food writers, chefs, bakers and industry professionals. It shows that some of the tastiest food in Britain isn’t always where you'd expect to find it. There's more from the day on our Flickr page.
More pie things you'll love