Tuesday 26 November 2013

World Scotch Pie Champion 2013

JB Christie - World Champion Scotch Pie Review

When my great-Grandfather moved from Scotland to London he was so poor that he had to go to school without any shoes on. It seems quite likely that at some point in his life he would have eaten a Scotch pie. In those days Scotch pies were made with cheap mutton. It was minced so that the fatty meat was easier to eat and spiced to make it more palatable. I like to think that both my family and Scotch pies have come a long way. As I made the trip back to Scotland I felt slightly extravagant in the fact that I actually took two pairs of shoes for my trip of less than a week. While they are still generally cheap, the best Scotch Pies are now highly regarded with bakers fighting it out each year for the title of 'World Champion' at the Scotch Pie Awards. The World Champion in 2013 was JB Christie of Airdrie. This award has done much for their reputation and the owner, Andrew Chisholm, recently appeared in an episode of Pies & Puds, showing Paul Hollywood how they make their World Champion Scotch Pies.

After attending the Scotch Pie Awards I decided to make a pie pilgrimage to Airdrie in order to sample these pies which come so highly regarded. It was a gloomy day when I arrived in Airdrie but once I found JB Christie the atmosphere inside was anything but gloomy. This small bakery was packed with both people and products. There was a bright array of cakes, bread, pastries and of course a selection of pies. There were other tempting products but I had my eyes firmly on the World Champion Scotch Pie.

I couldn't wait so I ate the pie as soon as I was out the door. It had a classic Scotch pie appearance with a golden brown colour. From the first bite I could tell this was the best Scotch pie I had ever tasted. What set it apart for me was the perfect variation in texture. The contrast between the crunch of the pastry and softness of the filling was superb. This was certainly more spicy than most Scotch pies I have had but the balance of flavour was just right. The flavour of the beef still held its own and ensured a satisfying meaty taste. The filling was soft but still retained some bite unlike others which can be too mushy.

Having had such a great pie I then felt I had to pay my complements to the chef. I walked the short distance to the nearby JB Christie office and Andrew Chisholm was kind enough to come out and talk to me. When he offered to show me around the pie production facility I felt a surge of excitement. I have been reviewing pies for some years now but this was a first for me.

Despite doing things on a relatively small scale Christie still manage to produce 120 dozen pies a day. It is quite a labour intensive process and all the pies are finished by hand. In the past they used a depositor to fill the pastry shells but Andrew told me they actually stopped using that as a change in meat could clog the machine. Andrew said he sees the benefits of doing it by hand.

The pastry is shaped by a machine called a waddle. Andrew assures me these are reliable bits of kit. The specification for them hasn't changed in about 70 years. The business that made them produced something too good. The machines didn't need replacing so the company went out of business. The waddle turns a pastry lump into that characteristic pastry shell we expect a Scotch pie to have. Fresh off the machine the pastry shell is soft, Andrew says there is no way that the shell could be filled with the moist filling straight away. This is where I learnt a secret about the Scotch pie which I hadn't expected. They place the pastry shells on racks and allow them to dry (or 'cure') for up to three days. This gives the pastry much more hardness. It develops the crunch of the pastry but, importantly, also allows the shells to be filled with quite a wet meat. JB Christie have racks and racks of pie shells which Andrew shows me are of varying degrees of hardness. This is where other manufacturers perhaps miss out if they don't have the same amount of space to store the shells for long enough. Andrew said this is where Paul Hollywood went wrong with the version he tried to make. Due to the soft pastry he had to use a ridged filling consistency, more like a pork pie.

Andrew then takes me to see the finished pie, cutting the pie to demonstrate that it still has softness to it but the outside of pastry maintains a crunch even when reheated.

Despite the fact that traditionally Scotch Pies were made with mutton Andrew believes in the beef versions that are by far the most common now. He said that to use mutton they would find it hard to get the seasoning right. He says he hasn't changed the seasoning for their Scotch pie since he took over the business. I was surprised to learn he only took over 18 months ago, not long before their Scotch pie awards success.

While I was still there I took the opportunity to ask Andrew a few more questions. Firstly I had to know what his favourite pie was. "That would be a Scotch Pie. We don't do macaroni, we don't do chicken, we find the majority of people like a Scotch pie and we concentrate on that."

I then asked how he rated his chances for the 2014 Scotch Pie Awards. "The pies we put in I was quite happy with. It is actually very, very hard work to keep things where you were. Supplier change their spec, a different harvest... the raw material is natural, the meat changes." I didn't appreciate before speaking to Andrew that to maintain a top product you have to keep running just to stand still. You can't take for granted that your product will continue to be good even if you try and keep everything the same.

So what sort of score would I give to the JB Christie World Champion Scotch Pie? Well when the price is just 55p for the small and 77p for the large version (plus a wee bit more to have it hot) I think this is one of the best value pies I have ever eaten. As Andrew said to me this is not a gourmet pie, it is a working man's product. However, it does taste as good as many gourmet pie I have eaten so I am forced to give it a very high score. This is what pies are all about; good, honest and simple. It goes straight to the top of our best Scotch Pies list.

Many thanks to Andrew Chisholm for giving me so much time in his working day. This really was an eye opening experience and has allowed us to finally understand what a Scotch pie actually is.

Beef Scotch Pie (JB Christie [ML6 6BU])


We've already reviewed a range of Scotch Pies. See where this pie ended up in the Pierate Pie Rankings or find other pies of a similar flavour.

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