You can't get much more British than pie. Whether sweet or savoury, we love the stuff, from the tip of Cornwall to the top of Scotland. We've been eating it in all its glorious iterations for centuries, and Mintel research has suggested we spend £1 billion on pie per year.
While pie comes in myriad forms, the pork pie is arguably the nation's favourite. Part of the appeal is its rigid simplicity: crumbly pastry, usually hot water crust pastry, encasing minced or chopped pork.
Pork pies are produced, and indeed eaten, all over the country. Norfolk, Lancashire and Yorkshire are proud producers and claim supremacy. But there's one pork pie that has risen above all others as the standard-bearer for the humble British snack: the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie.
In 2008, the pork pie lobby successfully earned Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for the little morsel of goodness after a 10-year battle. This put the East Midlands snack alongside the likes of Champagne, Parma ham and Gorgonzola.
Read more | Telegraph taste tests
To achieve the gilded status of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, several criteria must be met. Firstly, the pies must be made in the eponymous Leicestershire town or its immediate surroundings.
Ingredients and method of production are also fiercely controlled. Key factors include: bow-shaped sides; uncured, chopped pork which naturally turns grey when cooked; jelly between the pastry and filling is essential to preserve freshness; the pie must be formed by hand.
While pork pies are a ubiquitous snack in the UK, commonly sighted at picnics, in pub gardens and at motorway service stations, how we eat them is a bone of contention. Are they best as a standalone snack or with a side salad or pickles? Should they be eaten warm or cold? (A pie with jelly, in our opinion, should always be eaten cold, or the jelly will turn to an unappetising liquid).
Pork pie recipe
Fancy toppings and fillings are common, but are they necessary? Commonly found in pork pies these days are fruit and chilli, which can add a sweet, spicy or tangy counterpoint to the salty pork. A Roman pork pie recipe included dried figs, however, so fruity additions are not solely the product of modern experimentation.
Preferable to fillings are sauces or relishes. Mustard, pickle, chutney and apple sauce are all acceptable. Brown sauce and ketchup are less desirable, but each to their own.
With the British Pie Awards taking place this week, The Telegraph decided to conduct its own taste test. A relatively liberal qualification policy (we want to try them all), meant we didn't stick to Melton Mowbrays. Anything with a pork filling encased by a roundish pastry was considered.
Here's our pick of the bunch, and, as always, let us know your favourites.
1. Marks & Spencer dinky Melton Mowbray pork pies
£2.60, Marks and Spencer
These mini Meltons didn't appear uniformly cooked - some are dark brown, almost burnt, others lighter. The 'dinky' pies were quite bland and didn't taste like they'd been seasoned enough.
2. Ginster's mini pork pies
£1.89 for two, Whistle Stop Food & Wine
They looked quite pretty from the outside, if a bit too uniform in crimping. Very small, but with a nice golden colour that seems neither overdone nor raw. There was no jelly inside.
Sadly, they tasted quite bland; inoffensive, but underwhelming. There was no textural difference between pastry and filling.
3. Tesco mini Melton Mowbray pork pies
£1.50 for 6, Tesco
They look fairly nondescript. Another fairly uneventful snack, with minimal salt and flavour. The testers didn't feel compelled to eat more, unless smothered in relish.
4. Asda Extra Special mini pork pies topped with caramelised onion chutney
£2 for 4, Asda
A controversial entrant, considering the lack of pastry top and the onion relish. The onion chutney is potent, with a strong smell, but it's not overly sweet or tangy. The only complaint was that the ratio wasn't ideal, so we couldn't detect much pork. Ideal for eating on the go.
5. Waitrose succulent Melton Mowbray pork pie
Looks a little boring, with no crimping. It's also very beige, lacking that appealing golden colour. Inside, jelly is minimal.
What it lacks in appearance it makes up for in flavour, however. The pastry is good, with a pleasing crumble, and flavoursome. The filling is well-seasoned. We'd definitely eat more.
6. Sainsbury's medium pork pie
The pastry looks appetising; a beautiful golden colour. It's heavy and hearty, and would make a fulling lunch. The meat (cured pork), is pleasingly pink, rather than grey, but there's no jelly between meat and pastry. It tastes good, but is slightly stodgy. Overall, a fairly good effort.
7. Toppings Pies chilli pork pie
£2.50, Toppings Pies
It looks homemade, like something you could pick up at the local farmers market. There is jelly inside, and the red specks of chilli are inviting. The pastry is very well cooked, a marbled mixture of gold and dark brown.
The pork is a little salty, but bursts with flavour, and the heat is subtle but welcome. The pastry itself is soft but flavoursome, and it's good enough to eat without a sauce or side.
8. Pork pie with Mr Vikki's chilli jam
£1.60, Dales Butchers
This pie was very well cooked, a golden pastry with specks of slightly browner crust. The crimples were uniform without looking artificial or factory-made.
Flavour-wise, it was a unanimous hit with the panel. The pork was flavoursome without being overly salty or spicy, but there was a pleasant kick, almost chorizo-like in taste. Some found the thick jelly a little too much, but overall a crowd pleaser.
9. Dickinson & Morris Melton Mowbray pork pie
A real hefty - and heavy - pie, it looks hand made and rustic, with proper Melton Mowbray bow crimping. Inside there are chunks of meaty pork, there's lots of jelly, and it's unashamedly fatty. It doesn't look healthy, but it does taste good. The pastry is crumbly, the meat dense and flavoursome, well seasoned with salt and pepper. A worthy winner.