Melton Mowbray pork pie is probably THE pie to try when you are in the UK. It originates in the town of Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire County, about two hours north of London. The town is one of the oldest market towns in this country. True to its “rural capital of food” nickname, it still holds a range of weekly markets and plays host to the annual British Pie Awards and other food festivals.
What are Melton Mowbray Pork Pies?England
Country of origin: England
Melton Mowbray pork pies are, as the name suggests, pork pies made in Melton Mowbray and its surrounding area. These little parcels of goodness are not just any pork pies. They have the distinct honor of receiving Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status from the European Union, meaning that producers must be within a specified geographical region and adhere to strict rules on the method of production.
According to UK government website, authentic Melton Mowbray pork pies must “have a bow walled pastry case giving them their characteristic bow shape. The pastry is golden brown in colour with a rich texture. The pork filling is uncured and therefore grey in colour.”
The gray color in the pork filling is one distinguishing feature that sets Melton Mowbray pork pies apart. Most commercial pork pies use cured pork so the meat appears pink. Using uncured, fresh pork, ground or chopped, the inside of the Melton Mowbray pork pie is pink to start, but turns gray-ish once baked.
Another rule that must be adhered to is that at least 30% of the pie must be pork. The pork filling is stuffed into the pastry and baked. Once baked, jelly, made from either pork gelatin or pork bone stock, is added through the hole on the upper crust to fill the void between the filling and its outer pastry crust due to meat shrinkage during baking. Once solidified, the jelly surrounds the meat and prevents the filling from coming in contact with oxygen, therefore preserving the meat pie to last a little bit longer.
Although strict in locality and allowable ingredients, bakers have a lot of leeway to season their fillings. Apparently, anchovy essence, is one of those not-so-secret ingredients, to make these pies pop. Melton Mowbray pork pies come in various sizes and weights. From mini bites to family size ones for cutting and sharing.
A Brief history
To talk about the history of Melton Mowbray pork pies, we must first talk about the area’s first and foremost food product, Stilton. Stilton is a world renowned English blue cheese made in three counties (Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire). Production started in the 16th century when land began to be enclosed and parceled off by hedges. With these natural paddocks replacing open pasture, farmers shifted to raise more cows for milk instead of allowing sheep to graze freely. The abundance of milk led to more cheese making as a way to prolong and preserve this valuable protein rich food. By the end of the 18th century, Melton Mowbray and its vicinity had become famous for its cheese.
The principal byproduct of cheese making is whey. Well, it just so happens that pigs thrive on whey. So farmers built pigsties alongside dairies. Pork soon became a cheap peasant staple.
Enclosure of land with hedges also had the side effect of an increase in fox population as these hedges provided nature habitats and shelters. To keep the fox population in check, riders on horseback, aided by dogs, hunted them. And soon, fox hutting went from part of animal husbandry to a sport in vogue for the upper class and the wealthy. To feed these hungry riders, local bakers made peasant pies for snacking during the hunt.
According to historian J. E. Brownlow, around 1831, a merchant named Edward Adcock started selling pork pies in his small bakery/confectionary to riders. Others soon followed with shops and factories. The Melton Mowbray pork pie industry was born.
Melton Mowbray pork pies and their fame spread quickly, thanks to the newly developed railroad network across England. From its humble utilitarian beginning, it blew up and became a national delicacy.
Elihu Burritt, an American peripatetic farmer, helped spread this famous pie to the New World. In his 1864 book, A Walk from London to John O’Groat’s, Burritt wrote about his visit to Melton Mowbray and sang the praises of the production process and the delicious pork pies.
Interesting facts about Melton Mowbray Pie
Hot water pastry is the pastry of choice when it comes to Melton Mowbray pork pies. This choice is necessary to provide the stiffness to support the wet and heavy fillings and to ensure the pies can withstand free-standing baking and jellying.
Mary Dickinson (1768-1841) of Melton Mowbray is considered the first person to make hand-raised pork pies with the assistance of a wooden dolly. Although marketing campaigns often specify that these pork pies are “hand-raised” to impart some artisanal qualities (or to justify the premium price) , “hand-raising” is actually not a requirement for an authentic Metlon Mowbray pork pie. Instead of hand-raising, the outer pie shells may be made faster and more economically using a mold.
What is required, though, is that these pork pies are baked free-standing, without any mold to assist and prop up their walls. The free standing baking results in sides bowing outward, giving Melton Mowbray pork pies their signature look.
My own Melton Mowbray Pork Pie experience
Dickinson & Morris Melton Mowbray Pork Pie
Looking to score big with my first Melton Mowbray pork pie, I looked up the winners of the British Pie Awards 2019. Dickinson & Morris Melton Mowbray Pork Pie 454g (1lb) took home Gold in the Metlon Mowbray pork pie class. The same pie got a silver in class 2, the general pork pie category.
Of course, it’s no wonder. The company Dickinson & Morris has a long history of making these delicious pies. Mary Dickinson’s (hand-raising lady) grandson, John opened his pork pie bakery shop in 1851. Three and a half decades later, aging John took on a young apprentice, Joseph Morris, who became a partner in the business in 1901. Thus, the brand Dickinson & Morris came to be.
I was very happy to find out that Sainsbury carries this brand’s range. The 1 lb pie was on sale for £3 (instead of 4) at Sainsbury’s during the time I went to do my eating research. However, the shelf was empty! ALL GONE! I took that as an auspicious sign.
Fret not! Dickinson & Morris also has an individual size version that took home a highly commanded silver in class 2 as well. So I looked around for that.
Well, THAT WAS ALL GONE TOO! By this time, I was thinking, “this either is a really good pie or this Sainsbury’s needs to do better inventory control.”
The only thing left were three little boxes of their snack size 2-pack for £1.20. So I bought one, settling for what I could get.
*Later I confirmed that the snack size version was also entered into the competition and walked away with a bronze. Not so shabby after all.
Cold meat pie?
First, let me say that I don’t think I’ve ever had a cold pie before. Wait, let me rephrase that, I’ve never had a cold meat pie before. The words “cold pork” just seems so…. off putting to say the least.
So after leaving Sainsbury’s, Hubby and I debated whether we should include it in our impending picnic or wait until we get home to heat it up. Even after I kindly informed him that there are categories of pies judged and eaten COLD during the British Pie Awards competition, neither him nor I were entirely convinced of the merits of a cold meat pie.
However, I was determined to try it cold at least once. But to be honest, I had my doubts. A Cold turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving is what I am used to. But a cold meat pie with jellied fat? I wasn’t quite sure whether I would make it through without being entirely grossed out. But I wanted to embrace the experience.
My very first bite
I gingerly cut the pie in half and took the tiniest bite, barely making a dent in the half I was holding. Mind you, the snack size is probably meant for a quick 2 bite deal.
Well, all the Brits past and present can’t be wrong. They know their pies. This cold Melton Mowbray pork pie was absolutely delicious. The pie crust was pretty thick, but not enough to be overwhelming or pasty. It was firm and crumbly, not soggy. The meat had good flavoring.
My apprehension of the jelly was a nonissue. There was a slight ring of jelly, but I couldn’t really tell that it was there until the meat was peeled away from the crust
I popped the other half in my mouth without hesitation. This was good stuff. I would say the highlight was definitely the crust- how rich and crumbly it was.
[UPDATE] I heated up the other mini pie in a low heat oven for about 10 minutes when I got home. The heat melted the fat in the crust and in the filling, leaving a pool of grease on the baking sheet. This made the crust soggy :(. Interestingly, while the room temperature pie highlighted the crumbliness of the pastry, when heated, the flavor of the pork really shined through.
[ANOTHER UPDATE] Oh, don’t leave it in a sunny conservatory, the jelly will melt and make the crust soggy again. Lesson learned!
Mrs. King’s Melton Mowbray pork pie
Having been hooked, I sought out more Melton Mowbray pork pies.
One day, I was at Borough Market and came across Mrs. King’s stand. So I bought the traditional to try. The pie had some weight to it. Very solid pastry. I didn’t eat it right away. Instead, I popped into the Tube with it in a paper bag. It held up very well even after a long journey.
This Melton Mowbray Pork Pie was also very good. The pastry was again rich and crumbly. Inside, the meat appeared coarse, not mushy, surrounded by a thin layer of translucent jelly, which did not taste greasy. There was more jelly in this one. Not sure it this was intended, but this jelly provided a nice splash of coldness in a bite. Interesting effect!
Where to find an authentic Melton Mowbray pork pie
If you are in Melton Mowbray, be sure to visit Ye Olde pork Pie Shoppe. Affiliated with Dickinson & Morris, it is the oldest pie shop in the UK. It is also the only remaining Melton Mowbray pork pie bakery still located within its town center.
If you are in London, check out Mrs. King’s stand in Borough Market. I missed it the first time around, but it’s there. For all the accolades Mrs. King have garnered, the stand is quite understated.
Due to their popularity in the UK, these pies are readily available at UK grocery store chains such as Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Co-op, and Morrison’s.