Thursday, 7 November 2013
The Great Pie and Cheese Tasting
Last night, K---, V--- and myself got down to it: the formal tasting and assessment of the pies and cheese I brought back from my holiday in the East Midlands.
To recap, the collection consisted of six medium-sized Melton Mowbray pork pies, made in accordance with the traditional recipe, bought on the same day from two different shops, both butchers with baking facilities. One was Nelson's in Stamford. Nelson's pies are all made on the premises, and are displayed unpackaged until sold, when the person serving will wrap each pie up individually. I bought three of those, which together cost me £10.50, or £3.50 each. The other source was Dickinson & Morris's in Melton Mowbray, who offer their wares in Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe, which is next door to their Sausage Shop. D&M's pies are sold already wrapped up. There are two types of wrapping: red means this is a pie made to the genuine recipe, but mass-produced in a factory; white means 'hand-made on the premises'. I bought three white-wrapped pies, to permit an exact comparison with the three pies from Nelson's. Together they cost me £14.25, or £4.75 each. Both businesses have websites, on which anyone can place an order for next-day delivery - see http://www.nelsonsbutchers.co.uk/ and http://www.porkpie.co.uk/.
As for the Stinking Bishop cheese, I bought quarter of a whole one (just under half a kilo) from a shop in Melton Mowbray called The Melton Cheeseboard. This cost me £14.56 - the cheese was being sold at £34.00 per kilo. This is another shop that has its own website - see http://www.meltoncheeseboard.co.uk/. Stinking Bishop is reckoned to be the smelliest cheese made in the UK. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stinking_Bishop_cheese, and perhaps http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2009/may/28/smelliest-cheese-world-stinking-bishop. Note the reference in the Wikipedia article to Wallace being recalled from death by a whiff of the Stinking Bishop cheese! Strong stuff then. Last night, K--- recoiled in alarm and horror as she unwrapped the festering wedge. Surely she was feigning.
Anyway, there we were: pies and cheese were unpacked, and revealed to be in perfect condition. K---'s was the venue. She had prepared soup; she had bought bread; and she had created a salad. She had also raided her wine cellar, and purchased yummy Belgian chocolates.
First, the soup. This was creamy onion soup, made according to an elaborate method stipulated by one of K---'s favourite chefs. It was lovely. If I ever really do get the chance to take part in Channel 4's Come Dine With Me, I shall borrow the recipe. K--- decorated it prettily with parsley:
Then K--- put two of the pies onto a blue serving plate, one from Nelson's (left in the picture below), and one from D&M (right):
Both weighed the same, but the pie from Nelson's had spread out more and so looked bigger. Traditional Melton Mowbray pies, by the way, are not put in a restraining mould, but allowed to bow out sideways as they bake. Clearly the precise pastry mix matters, as does anything brushed onto the pie to seal it. Nelson's pie had not only bowed out more, but the crust had turned out lighter in colour than D&M's. On the other hand, D&M's pie was more compact and symmetrical, looking more like pies do in general.
K--- then arranged her salad around the pies, and brought the plate to the table, where she cut each pie into three segments. The bread next. Then the candle was lit:
We all had the same stuff on our plates. Here was mine. This time D&M's pie was on the left and Nelson's on the right; with salad in front and hot asparagus behind:
You can see at once that Nelson's pie crust (right) was thicker, there was more jelly, and apparently less meat. But then it was the less expensive pie. What about the taste? Although both makers used the same meat recipe, there might still be a subtle difference between the two pies. There was. V--- and I both thought that the meat in the D&M pie was slightly more moist, and the meat in Nelson's pie drier and more 'solid'. There was as well a pleasant hint of pepper in the D&M pie not discernible in the pie made by Nelson's. K--- agreed to all this, but thought that Nelson's pie had the better taste overall. In truth they were both excellent pies, attractive and nicely made with fine ingredients. But, speaking simply for myself, while I would be happy to tuck into a Nelson's pie any time, if I had a choice I would go for D&M's, chiefly on texture and taste.
We had a break at this point, and listened to K---'s edited version of the audio podcast recording we did a little while back. K--- had done a skilful technical job, adding music and fading for instance. It still seemed funny and spontaneous. I thought however that my voice sounded terrible! Do I really sound like that? We'll definitely have to do some more though.
Next, the cheese. It looked pretty ripe.
Although it was niffy, the Stinking Bishop was much milder in the mouth. V---, being French, loved this cheese, and kept on cutting off slivers. I confined myself to just one helping. It spread beautifully on the roughly-broken bread and butter:
K--- suggested trying it with a pear. This worked very well, a good combination of flavours. Although the cheese rind looked formidable, it was in fact easy and pleasant to eat. I can see why cheese lovers go into ecstasy over something like this!
Finally, tea and Belgian chocolates. We realised that we had spent three hours over this tasting! And we'd consumed two and a half bottles of wine. V--- came away with two of the remaining pies, K--- and myself having one each. V--- and K--- split the cheese. I didn't want it back in my house - it was way too smelly!
The whole thing had been great fun. Bringing back local delicacies to share with friends is a much better idea in my view than buying them tatty souvenirs. But you do need a fridge.