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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 July, 2004, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
Selling porkies - an almighty pie fight
By Jennifer Quinn
BBC News Online Magazine

The people of Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire, want their pork pies recognised as a slice of history. It would mean no other manufacturers could pass off a potentially sub-standard pie under the Melton Mowbray tag. But the move has sparked a pie fight of epic proportions.

A Melton Mowbray pork pie
Tasty snack or legal minefield?

He talks about it with the zeal of a true believer. There's the crispy, biscuity texture of the crust. The grey tinge of the meat is good, because pink would suggest cured pork and that's anathema.

The sides of the pie, Matthew O'Callaghan says, are definitely not straight. A real Melton Mowbray pork pie kind of collapses on itself because it's baked "free-standing" and those supermarket pies you see, he sniffs, well, they're just far too upright.

Mr O'Callaghan is the protector of the Melton Mowbray pork pie. He may protect them - but he won't actually eat them, because he's vegetarian.

No matter. To Mr O'Callaghan, a Melton Mowbray councillor, safeguarding the Leicestershire delicacy is an important thing for industry, tourism, and regional pride.


"This is intellectual property," he says. "It's part of our food heritage. And it should belong to the people that made it."

To that end, the association - made up of seven local pie producers - is trying to have its product recognised by the European Union. It wants "protected geographic indication status", which has already been given to hundreds of products across the EU.

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Inclusion on the EU's list means manufacturers outside a specific area cannot replicate a product and trade on its name and heritage.

In Britain, for example, Newcastle brown ale is protected, as is Cornish clotted cream, but not Cornish pasties which can be made anywhere. Stilton cheeses, which come from the same area as Melton Mowbray pies, are also on the EU's list, although cheddar has been judged too generic.

Like anything governmental, there are processes to go through and specifics to prove. The government of the product's country of origin has to approve the application before the EU does.

And that's where this pie fight has gone crusty.

Northern Foods, which makes "Melton Mowbray" pork pies in factories in Shropshire and Wiltshire - and would therefore have to drop the MM tag - argues its been making pies for a century, and that itself is a good tradition.

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It believes the pork pie association is literally trying to corner the market. Northern Foods claims the jobs of 300 of its employees are at stake.

"We're just keen that it should be used for the protection of our food heritage and not to prevent competition," says Julian Wild, Northern Food's corporate development director.

"We say it's wrong that we should be prevented from making a product that we've made for 100 years."


And Mr Wild says the image of the association's members as artisan bakers is misleading - one of his biggest competitors is, in fact, a member of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association.

It also takes issue with the association's idea of how a traditional pie is made.

But the Melton Mowbray pie people stand firm, claiming: "The future of the Melton Mowbray pork pie is under threat from manufacturers outside the region who are increasingly trying to market their products as 'Melton Mowbray' pork pies.

Matthew O'Callaghan
Pie-eyed: Matthew O'Callaghan, a veggie who loves his pies

"Even if these products were similar to the authentic Melton Mowbray Pork Pie - most are not, and use different ingredients, recipes or processes - it is clear that, if we do not act to protect the product, consumers will become increasingly misled and confused as to the authenticity of the 'Melton Mowbray' pork pie they are buying."

Mr Wild disagrees with that.

"I think we believe it's an indicator of the style of product - a bit like, say, Dijon mustard would be," he says. "It refers to a high-quality standard and in a particular style, rather than where it's made."

Northern planned to challenge the pie association's application in court. But the British government has agreed to take a second look at the application which, a Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs spokesperson admitted, brings the process back to the early stages.

In Scotland, Robert Spink is sympathetic to the pie people.

He was at the forefront of the movement that saw Arbroath Smokies get protected geographical indication status. The fishy treat has been part of his family's livelihood for five generations.

"I'm one of those people who believes if a name is on a product it's associated with that area," Mr Spink, a director of RR Spink and Sons Arbroath, says. "So if I buy a pork pie that says Melton Mowbray on it, I expect it to be from Melton Mowbray."

Mr Spink's dealings with the EU lasted just over two years and getting the smokies recognized was - while not complicated - an exacting process.

"I was able to back up the process of making smokies for 100 years," he says. "And I was able to prove that the other products being sold as smokies weren't processed the traditional way."

He says the smokies - which can only be made five miles from Arbroath town centre - bring people to this part of the Scottish coast, and that visitors to the area like the fact that they're enjoying a product that can be made nowhere else.

"There's a sort of publicity that's attached to that," Mr Spink says. "They go looking for an Arbroath Smokie. It's a good story."

*According to the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association, the pie on the right on The Magazine front page is a "genuine" Melton Mowbray Pork Pie.

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