How to pick a winning pie

March 8, 2019

This week I was judging in the British Pie Awards in Melton Mowbray. This is always a highlight of the year even if the demanding pace of tasting means that Rennies are really missing a trick in not sponsoring the event.

I thought people might like an insight into how these events are judged. I’m sure many may have cynicism about award schemes but this one at least is a genuine event that manages to minimise both subjectivity and bias in the judging.

So, for the awards a pie is defined as “a filling wholly encased in pastry and baked”, and there are some 23 categories defined by filling (Steak Pie, Speciality Meat or Game Pie, Melton Mowbray Pork pie etc) or by producer (Small Producer, Public Sector etc).

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Judges are briefed at St Mary’s Church, Melton Mowbray.

Judges – mainly industry insiders and other food producers – are allocated a category and work in pairs to assess submissions against a clear marking scheme. Pies start with 100 points – 20 for overall appearance, 15 for bake quality, 5 for pastry thickness, 15 for pastry taste and texture, 5 for how well filled and 40 for taste of filling. Judges remove points for where pies fall down. There are plenty of explanatory notes unpacking the criteria, plus at the beginning of judging the chief judge takes all judges through an example judging of a “control pie”, explaining why points might be deducted for overbaking, uneven pastry, under or over-seasoning, poor balance of meat/gravy and so on.

Pies are delivered to our table – hot if appropriate – and we get stuck in with the visual assessment before cutting the pie in half, tasting the pastry and then the filling. Each pie has a code number – so judges are unaware who made it, we simply have a list of the primary ingredients and allergens. Forms are duly filled in and a final score arrived at, and the remaining half-pies of three top scorers are delivered to the senior judges who confirm the class winner and also select an overall supreme champion.

No system is going to be perfect but with the measures put in to bring about some level of consistency and transparency (makers get to see judges marks and comments) this is at least a genuine attempt to get to the best pie.

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The end of an arduous judging process

This year I had the “Pub Pie” category , I assume meaning made either by or for pubs. The majority were steak and ale but there were a few outliers such as smoked bacon and brie. Overall the quality was high – my judge pairing had no real clunkers – with a fair few pies awarded bronze (70-79 points) and silver (80-89 points) awards. We were waiting for a real star though and it came with the very last pie of the day – a stunning boeuf bourguignon effort with beautifully made pastry and a remarkably flavoursome filling with tender beef and all elements in balance. If that was served up in a pub you know you’d know you were in a special place.

*Friday 8 March, 3pm: The award winners have finally just been announced and I’ve discovered our winning pie was from The Bell Pie Shop at the Bell Hotel in Winslow, Bucks. It appears they won the category last year too. I hope that doesn’t seem suspicious  – hopefully the above explanation should assure everyone concerned that the best pie won.

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