Summer is fast approaching, so if you're in the process of revising your menus and looking for alternatives to hot meals, why not create a cold platter around a pork pie?
Their versatility means pies are well suited to pub menus. Particularly at lunchtime, when customer waiting time is often limited, individual pies hold their own when it comes to ease of service. Potential wastage costs can be kept to a minimum, too.
Food manufacturers have responded to caterers' demands for more variety in the pork pies on the market. Breaking away from traditional pork pies, over the past seven or so years manufacturers have added fruit and herbs, with the intention of making ordinary pies more interesting and appealing to customers who may not normally eat them.
A spokeswoman from pork-pie producer Essex Larders confirms the popularity of speciality pork pies is on the increase. "Caterers have been demanding something a bit different to offer their customers, other than a standard pork pie."
Consequently, in the taste test conducted last month at the Earls Court Hotelympia exhibition, Caterer & Hotelkeeper put standard and speciality uncured pies to the test.
All pies were tasted blind by more than 40 catering buyers visiting the show. Detailed questionnaires were completed as each pork pie was tasted.
What makes an ideal pork pie?
Tasters' comments were noted on tasting sheets and the pies were assessed on five criteria:
Visual impression: dark to golden brown pastry, but not burnt. No jelly or meat should be visible through the crust.
Pastry: the pastry should be crisp and slightly crunchy.
Meat content: the meat filling should be moist and without any visible pieces of fat, and have adequate jelly filling.
Flavour: does the pie taste good?
Overall impression: tasters were asked to assess their overall impression of the pies tasted, taking into account all the above criteria.
When the results of the questionnaires were analysed, the criterion that tasters had awarded the most marks to was the meat content of the various pies tested.
Tasters' comments revealed they were generally impressed with the level of moistness and overall standard of the meat fillings.
Appearance was next highest on this list. Certain pies were commended highly for "attractive pastrywork" which some tasters suggested made the pie look home-made.
However, the categories where tasters awarded the lowest scores were for pastry and flavour - indicating that this is an area that manufacturers might address.
Some tasters commented that the taste of the meat did not match their visual expectations. One taster, for example, complained of the meat texture as "too fatty, even though it didn't look it".
Caterer & Hotelkeeper would like to make it clear that the views expressed about the pork pies in this taste test are the opinions of the individual tasters and not those of the magazine.