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Photograph: Time Out/Shutterstock
Photograph: Time Out/Shutterstock

Meat, Reviewed: oh God, it’s time for pork pies

A lifelong vegetarian tries Britain's lardiest picnic snack

Huw Oliver

Huw Oliver was a lifelong vegetarian until lockdown – not by choice, but out of hippyish family custom. Twenty-five years of no meat. Then he got stuck in a house with a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore. Desperate to inject some sort of excitement into his life, he has decided to cook and eat every available meat for the very first time. To his intestines (and his dad): sorry. This is Meat, Reviewed.

Week four: pork pie

It says a lot about us Brits that the vast majority of our protected-status foods are either meat, meat products, or cheese. Scotch beef, cornish pasties, Yorkshire wensleydale: we know what we like, and that’s the gloriously fatty good stuff.

Melton Mowbray’s pork pies, often, unbelievably, consumed as a mere snack – something plain and simple and calorific, y’know, to carry around in case of hunger pangs – take this national obsession to gut-churning levels.

Just a load of chopped-up pig compressed in a lard-pastry parcel and lubricated with a transparent substance called ‘pork jelly’ – casual. Cool. Even for a now-wizened flexitarian, whose palate has been primed by roast birdrashers and rib-eye, the Melton Mowbray pork pie is unsettling territory. Never have I been in the presence of so much saturated fat, and embarrassingly for such a hard guy like me, it’s actually pretty scary.

The prep Obviously I haven’t made this artfully misshapen hockey puck myself. Marks and Sparks, I’m told, will deliver. It does. So far, so piece of piss! And given that the general consensus on pork pies is that they’re ‘best served cold’, this week is looking like a complete doddle.

‘Heatwave picnic’ is the vibe I’m going for, so I throw together a tomato, shallot and courgette salad, with extra rocket and a dollop of tomato chutney. To drink, half an Old Speckled Hen ale.

The guilt factor Like a discerning DJ mix, my pie apparently contains ‘selected cuts only’, reconstituted into an incredibly solid golden-brown paperweight. Looking at its insides – all rotten beige and unwell pink – I immediately feel repulsed.

Bacon is one thing. This miserable, greasy entity is another. Macerating the meat, processing it out of all recognition, stuffing it so violently inside a pastry case, elevated by the same species’ own fat, feels disrespectful verging on wrong. And don’t get me started on the jelly.

First impressions With some regret, I start. First bite of the interior: nothing. Ten seconds in: still nothing. The texture is disconcertingly smooth. But the pie tastes of eff all. Then boom, the heady, rich smack of pure pig, a friendly sensation that fades all too quickly. After a few seconds, much to my increasingly sweaty chagrin, the stiff, cloyingly lardy crust obliterates all other flavour.

The meat of the matter Honestly, it’s a total drag. Eating more than a couple of mouthfuls is a struggle. My hands are dripping. The stuffing is bland, lacking any sort of spice. The jelly is pointlessly scant, the pastry mouth-scrapingly dry, and I can think of lots and lots of better veg fillings. ‘Protected geographical indication’ my arse.

The aftertaste I feel like I’ve been shovelling lard into my mouth. Which, I guess, is exactly what I have been doing. I pour myself another drink and glug balsamic on to my salad to block out the very distinct taste of stodge. Ugh.

Verdict? My first truly underwhelming experience as a carnivore; the nut roast of meat-eating. If only that tantalising punch of pig had lasted. 3/10.

Next week: Leg of lamb

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