When I first arrived in England nine years ago (to the day, actually), just as the holiday season hit full swing, I noticed lots of references to pies. "Ooh I love Christmas, I get to gorge on pies for a week" was the kind of thing I was hearing. I wasn't aware of the British pie scene just yet and didn't realise they're a beloved part of the culture. (I didn't watch Corrie back in Canada, maybe that would have helped.) Back home, my French Canadian grandmother makes a huge batch of meat pies at Christmastime and we call them exactly that. Meat pie. It's different from tourtiere, probably because she's actually Acadian, from New Brunswick, not Quebecois. But that was more a regional tradition she brought along to Ontario; we don't generally tie pies into Canadian culture. Today, I know that pork and steak pies are a British pub favourite, and mince pies are synonymous with Christmas. And they tend to be a small and individual sized. But to be honest, I hadn't really had a pie that made me crave another one (or even want to finish the one I started in some cases), so I've kind of been on the periphery of the pie love. But I was open to being converted if the right one came along.
Last week, Pieminister sent me their Christmas range of four different kinds of pies to try. I had high hopes after hearing that they only use British free-range meat and seeing what unexpected treats are found in their pies. (Prosciutto and Long Clawson Stilton to name a couple.) The Bristol-based company - all of their pies are made on site - has been steadily collecting awards for their outstanding product and business practices, including Gold in the Great Taste Awards 2013, and recognition for their commitment to high animal welfare standards, which is something I look for when I buy meat products. (If Compassion in World Farming says you're a good guy, you're a good guy.)
I love the posh packaging which hints to the quality of what's inside:
Let's peak inside at the Mistlemoo pie, made with British beef steak, free range British prosciutto, Long Clawson Stilton and chestnut mushrooms in a rich red wine and port sauce:
And after cooking all of the pies for about 25 minutes....
I served them on a board with some Italian salad leaves with cherry tomatoes, and it proved to be an ideal complement. Although this would make a great lunch, we had them for dinner, and two pies each was more than enough for the adults who are not known for being delicate about portions.
Let's cut one open:
As you can see, the pastry - a suet lid and all-butter shortcrust base - is perfect. It's very light and flakey, and if you heat the pies a few minutes longer than you need to (which I think I did) you don't get punished with a hard crust. I've had that happen with another high end pie range which had a heavy crust to begin with, and it wasn't nearly as nice. (Who wants a dense crust?)
If the Mistleoo filling sounded to die for, I am happy to say that it was. Very rich without leaving you feeling regretful afterward (and that's a state I know well), with the perfect ratio of ingredients to gravy. (That's another complaint I've had with some pies which should have been sold as 'gravy pies, maybe some meat'.) The others were equally delicious. Deer Santa is made with British venison, dry cured free-range bacon, red wine and puy lentils, which blend together beautifully. Merry Berry, I admit, was the one I was expecting not to love, thinking it might be a bit sugary. But the cranberries added the slightest shade of sweetness to the free-range British turkey, bacon, and chestnut mushroom filling, with a little red wine to punctuate the flavours. And there was a vegetarian option, the Christingle, with honey roast parsnip, locally sourced West Country cheddar, and chestnuts, which made a nice complement to the more savoury pies.
The verdict? The three people in this house unanimously voted Pieminister pies the best we've ever had (by far). They are very high quality, super tasty, responsibly sourced, and I think we'll be treating ourselves to more in the future - I am now too curious about all of the other flavours! (The Matador, with steak, olives, butter beans and chorizo - also free range and produced in Wales - is at the top of my list.)
Pieminister Pies are available to order through their website, and you can also find them at restaurants, pie pubs, festivals and farmer's markets around the country. And in my fridge.