If Yorkshire is pie county, then Bolster Moor Farm Shop has a better claim than most to be its capital. Bitten meets the reigning Pork Pie Appreciation Society’s pork pie maker of the year. Photography: Chris Leah
It doesn’t take long to shake yourself free of the M62’s clogged up arteries. In less than ten minutes you’re in Golcar, climbing over the moors, at the windy edge of Huddersfield. It’s fastest route from wherever you are right now to the best pork pie in Britain. And it’s a route you’d do well to acquaint yourselves with. Before Bitten eats them all.
From the escarpment of Scapegoat Hill, Yorkshires West and South recede away to a vanishing point where soil meets sky. Somewhere out there is Wilson’s of Leeds, Broster’s of Huddersfield, and Robinson’s of Halifax. They’re close. But, in Pork Pie terms, they might as well be in Lancashire – or some other mysterious, godforsaken country.
Because you’re at Bolster Moor Farm Shop. Ground zero of ground pork. And you’re in touching distance of the best of the best. A place where, in the words of owner Simon Haigh ‘Second is no good to anyone.’
“If you entered a competition and you told me you’d come second, what’s the first thing I’m going to ask you?” he prods us, mischievously.
“Exactly,” Simon says. And we’re off – on a tale of how second, for this astute farmer’s son, was the push he needed to secure his place in the pork pie annals.
Born on the farm, Simon and business partner/cousin Andrew Whitwam took the reigns from their fathers a decade or so ago. “They had a poultry farm, selling eggs door to door,” Simon recalls. But business was tough. “Batteries were on their way out, and the farm was past its sell-by date. We’d started a small farm shop off site, and realised this was the future.”
Trained as butchers, the pair plied their trade across the county before hatching their retail plan. They secured planning permission for their new shop, at the heart of their family farm, in 2009, and it was an instant success.
Now the farm, run by Simon’s middle son, is a healthy operation too, with over 200 cattle. But the business end is here, in the stone-and-timber farm shop, its butchers’ counter a whirr of sharpening steels, white-aproned chaps cleaving short rib and sirloin and, gleaming like a star cluster, Bolster Moor’s counter of baked-that-morning, freshly glazed pies.
“We built our business on our meat. We knew we were the best. But we bought in our pies, and that was what was letting us down,” Simon recalls.
So he set to work. “We bought a pie stamper, had a few experiments, and spoke to friends who were competing in the Great Yorkshire Pork Pie competition,” he says.
“He gave us some valuable tips, we created a pie we were happy with. So we thought, why don’t we enter?”
They did. And they came second.
The competition attracted around 300 entries, from over 60 butchers. Many of whom had been baking pork pies man and boy. Simon and Andrew were up and running.
“We had our picture taken for the local rag. From that Monday to the following Friday, our pie business doubled.”
The runner’s up prize was the catalyst they needed. From then on, the race was on to bake the best pie in the land.
“The recipe is the same today. Same lard, same flour, same meat. But we have made it a little more peppery,” Simon says of the pies that have since gone on to win competition after competition. “What we’ve got better at is the bake, making it consistent, and producing our pork in such a way that the fat content keeps it moist without leaking out and ruining the case.”
What’s not changed, however, is Bolster Moor’s belief that if you bake it right, they will come. Soft on the inside, crispy on the out, packed with punchy flavour throughout.
“We’re not wholesalers. We like the fact that if people want a Bolster Moor pie, they have to come to Bolster Moor,” Simon says. And they do – the shop shifts over 1,000 of the individual pies on a Saturday morning.
What makes a great Yorkshire pork pie? It starts with the meat.
“The biggest difference is that we cure our meat. When you cut into it, the pork is a nice pink, unlike the grey meat of a Melton Mowbray,” Simon says. It’s a dash of saltpeter that keeps the colour bright.
“We also add a little seasoning into our jelly, and our pastry is different too. Melton pies use a lot more fat, up to 50 per cent more,” he says.
The result is a pie that can stay crisper for longer. But, Simon believes, at a cost. “A Melton Mowbray pie can have a shelf life of four or five days. I wouldn’t sell you a pie that old. Ours are baked to be eaten that day.”
Which is just as well, really, as they don’t hang around.
“Yorkshire is a real pork pie stronghold,” Simon says. “There’s not many areas in the country where they’re as important. A butcher friend of mine in Wales will go through 500 faggots on a Monday. We don’t make faggots. In Scotland it’ll be haggis. We don’t make them either. We’re a pork pie county, and as long as it stays that way, we’ll be alright.”
And sausages – they make a tonne and a half of their award winning bangers every week too.
“Competition is fierce,” Simon admits. “I knew we had to make ours the best they could be. I’d go to competitions, and learn from the winners. You see the same people in the reckoning year after year. A lot of butchers don’t want to learn. They think the competitions are a stitch up. But we weren’t like that. We’d take it on the chin, go back to the drawing board until we had a sausage that we were proud of. How can you get better if you think you know it all?”
Simon hunted down Wolverhampton’s master sausage maker, Michael Kirk, who told him that, when it comes to a champion sausage, it was all about the details. That any decent butcher can make the top ten. But only those prepared to really finesse the finer points of meat, spices and texture can challenge the best of the best.
“In a good sausage, or a good pie, everything’s got to come together just right,” Simon says. “You can have the best meat in the world, but if your spices aren’t right, or if the fat leaks out and makes your bottom soggy, you’re nowhere.”
And nowhere, for Bolster Moor, just wasn’t an option. Which is why, now, this blustery farm shop isn’t just on the map. It’s the place where all roads lead.
The Inside Story
Uniquely, the meat in a pork pie is raw. Unlike shortcrust pies, where the meat is cooked and you’re merely baking the pastry, the pork pie needs a good long bake to reach the temperature needed to thoroughly cook the meat too.
“The pork pie is like an oven,” Simon says. And in a big pie, you might have a pound and a half of meat. The hole lets the steam out, and allows you to add the gravy later.”
Traditionally, the pastry case was little more than a container (it’s why the wooden pie moulds were called coffins.) Both pastry and jelly weren’t made to be eaten, but to merely preserve the meat and keep it moist. “You’d break the pastry off, it was there to stop the oxygen getting to the meat,” Simon says.
Bolster Moor Farm