There are two distinct (although similar) types of pork pie popular in Britain.
They are served cold and made with hot water pastry; when baked, this pastry gives a crust which is robust and golden brown. This allows the pies to be filled with a savoury jelly as they cool, often through a central hole in the crust.
Tradition has it that the strong pastry and solid filling (topped with jelly) meant that a pork pie could survive intact in a fox huntsman’s pocket until he chose to eat it. Fox hunting with horses and hounds has a long association with Melton Mowbray – the town is host to three significant hunts – the Belvoir (pronounced ‘beaver’), the Cottesmore and the Quorn. The phrase ‘painting the town red’ is said to have originated in Melton back in 1837 after a particularly successful hunt.
Most pork pies are made with cured pork, which means that the filling retains a distinct pink colour while ‘Melton Mowbray’ pork pies differ in that the meat used in the pie is not cured before the pie is made, giving a slightly grey colour to the filling.
Melton Mowbray is a town in Leicestershire, in the east Midlands, between Leicester and Nottingham that also lays claim to the origin of Stilton Cheese. The Melton Mowbray pork pie now has European Union ‘Protected Geographical Status’ appellation which means that pies thus described must come from the town.
Both types of pie share a distinctive squat cylindrical shape, although true Melton Mowbray pies are handmade and can be more irregular.
Further north, in Yorkshire, pork pies are sometimes known as ‘growlers’ and served with Mustard Piccallili.
Wherever served they are a popular part of buffets and pub lunches.