The British Pie Awards 2019
Sometimes, not very often, but sometimes, you find yourself playing the role you were born to play. This is very much how I felt when I traveled along to Melton Mowbray recently to join the 100+ throng of judges in the British Pie Awards.
It is just a short trip through the chocolate box market town to reach St Mary’s Church from the railway station. I managed to drink in the sight of hundreds of daffodils waking from their winter slumber as I walked. Such a beautiful place.
And of course, famous – claimed (by some) as the Food Capital of the Midlands. This is predominantly thanks to the Melton Mowbray pork pie – a geographically protected indication. The British Pie Awards sprung up in the town some 11 years ago and has developed a proud heritage of its own, not least the ‘Blessing of the Pie’ which takes place before judging begins. Which could be the most British thing I’ve ever experienced.
Down to the nitty gritty! A pie is deemed to be a filling that is wholly encased in pastry. This is important. There are no lattices, no shepherd’s pies and most of all, no stews with pastry lids. This is serious, carefully considered and important. The awards recognise the craft, skill and heritage of the pie maker. So it was a privilege to be involved.
There are over a hundred judges as there are hundreds of entries each year. These are split into numerous categories – including the pork pie (with Class One being the Melton Mowbray pork pie of course). Other categories look at different styles of meat pie, game pies, sweet pies, free-from pies and vegan pies to name but a few.
Each judge is put into a pair and before judging begins everyone is briefed and two ‘control pies’ are judged to ensure a consistency of standard across the whole process – one hot, one cold. Then on to your allotted station where the judging begins. We had three pairs of judges working through the Beef & Ale category because there were over 60 entries in total to get through!!
Standards at the British Pie Awards
The judging criteria is one of the most thorough and rigorous that I have seen. Each pie goes through a set of appraisals and examinations on all aspects of its technical construction and flavour. Only one half of the pie is judged to allow for further judging where arbitration is required, and for the highest scoring pies to be re-evaluated and tested by more senior judges looking for the Supreme Champion judged from all of the categories.
We looked at appearance, and the quality of the bake. We assessed the texture and taste of the pastry and the amount of filling. Of course, the texture and taste of the filling is also paramount. Each pie begins with 100 points and points are taken away for faults. No stone was left unturned in our detailed examination of quality. There were soggy bottoms and excessive boil-over. And there were crispy, even pastry layers with sumptuous, velvety fillings. Dizzying highs and crashing lows. But even the crashing lows were given as much constructive feedback as possible in the judging notes. This helps move the noble pie industry ever forward ready for the next competition.
As a food writer, the British Pie Awards was a thoroughly enjoyable exercise in rigorous, objective judgement of the products at hand. As a pregnant woman, I probably ate more steak and ale pie than was strictly necessary to judge them. Both aspects of my personality were satiated thoroughly by the experience.
And then the results came out.
*Shock horror* – a vegan pie won.
The national press decided this was an excellent time to gather some faux outrage from TV chefs with time on their hands. To be fair, they all had to get their smelling salts out last year when a pasty won… But at the end of the day, both of these categories are completely legitimate when the (excellent) definition of a pie is a filling completely enclosed in pastry.
So my congratulations to Jon Thorner Ltd and their Curried Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Pie. To be fair it does sound delicious. Each category has a Champion. They are selected from the highest scoring pies and agreed by the whole judging team for the category. Those Champions battle it out until only one survives, and this year it was the vegan offering that won out.
Serious business, this pie business.