“Black Country pies are better than Melton Mowbray’s”
When Brits go wobbly sentimental about native foods, they tend to conjure up images of the village idyll. When it comes to pork pies, it’s to Melton Mowbray and the countryside of the East Midlands they turn: for some reason this style of pork pie has become dominant in the British food psyche.
But in fact you should look to the grimy industry of the West Midlands to find the best examples of this traditional British pie. To the Black Country you must go.
We’ve all eaten award-winning Melton Mowbray pork pies – deli counters from Harrods to Asda are stocked full of them. Popular media has raised them to icon status, to be treasured alongside Cornish pasties and haggis. But compared to our local Walter Smith pork pie from Birmingham, I never thought they were that good.
On a Walter Smith pie, the pastry is the best point: almost crispy with a well-seasoned filling and good jelly. If I have one complaint it’s that they are sometimes too well-seasoned. The shop in Birmingham Indoor Market used to sell them but it’s closed down now, along with other Walter Smith outlets in Birmingham. So when I saw a Walter Smith in Wolverhampton, I snapped one up.
Before long I was on a mission to find the best pork pies in the West Midlands and had bought a bag-load so I could complete a full taste test.
The pastry on both was thin and properly cooked through. When this kind of pastry is fresh it’s crispy, crunchy and has a crackly glaze. The bottom of both pies was where the pastry was best; here it snapped like a lardy biscuit. The Don Guest filling was finer, tighter and better seasoned than the Walter Smith, which had a coarser texture. Both were cured lightly. A good amount of jelly surrounding the meat is important in a pork pie. It provides additional pork flavour, seasoning and lubrication. Both of these pies were well lubed.
A close thing then, I couldn’t split them. It was only after eating the same pies over three days that I was able to declare Don Guest the winner! It was still really tasty after three days, and the more even curing and finer texture won the day.
Don Guest & Son: 106A Stourbridge Road, Halesowen, West Midlands B63 3UN, 0121 550 3832
Walter Smith: Mander Centre, Wolverhampton, WV1 3NN, 01902 423 755
Lap-fai Lee is the man behind the Foodist blog.