Adventures in Pie Club, for David

Adventures in Pie Club, for David

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Pie Club

Pie Club International first official meeting

During our travels through New Zealand in January our group of international wine professionals fell in love with New Zealand pie. We’re all about dessert pies in the United States and there are occasionally savory pies too but in New Zealand savory pies are a full blown, foundational, culturally defining matter of national identity. It’s serious.

The importance of Kiwi pie runs so deep I think New Zealanders almost take it for granted. Australians love their pie too but in New Zealand pie’s crucial. I’ve never had more fun passionately discussing the metaphysical conditions necessary to a thing than I have talking pie with a Kiwi. Every New Zealand citizen seems to have strong views of what pies are the best pies, what fillings are most essential, and how best it should be served. The fascination proves both heartfelt and charming. It led to our forming an informal international pie club.

On January 23, during dinner on the shores of Lake Wanaka, my friend David Keck instigated a conversation about the defining features of quality pie with a proper Kiwi. Two days later in North Canterbury we talked our bus driver into making a stop at his favorite pie shop in Christchurch. We dragged along our wine companions from Sweden, the UK, Australia, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Germany and around the United States and Pie Club was born – first official meeting shown above. We spent the rest of our time in country hunting out pie from coffee shops, airport bakeries, and the occasional gas station.

This last month in Central Otago, International Pie Club reconvened with admittedly far fewer members present but I take my responsibilities as one of the founding members seriously. With that in mind, here are notes from tastings throughout the best spots in Central Otago and a few further afield below. Following those there are also notes from multiple conversations throughout the month with pie loving Kiwis about the necessary and sufficient conditions for pie.

Notes from Pie Club

Arrowtown Bakery, Arrowtown
1 Buckingham St, Arrowtown

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese, Steak & Mushrooms
Served: Brown Bag, Eaten Outside
Tasting Notes:
Mince & Cheese tasted first. Preferred. Consistency and cooking of pastry really strong. Nice flavor. Long finish. Nice distribution of cheese through the filling and nice consistency of cheese, only just enough to accentuate the flavor of the mince.
Steak & Mushroom tasted second. Pastry a bit too thick on top and a bit dry. Mushrooms geographically challenged, poorly distributed. Steak a bit dry and not enough gravy. Acceptable but not exciting.

Jimmy’s Pie, Queenstown
302 Hawthorne St, Queenstown (available from multiple locations)

Pies Tasted: Mince
Served: Queenstown’s Pak & Save Cold Pie, Heated with a side of tomato sauce on a plate with fork & knife
Tasting Notes:
Solid pie. Kiwi classic. Tomato sauce appropriate though unnecessary. Good consistency and proportion of filling to pastry. Life saver but not a life changer.

The Albie Cafe, Albert Town
20 Alison Ave, Albert Town

Pies Tasted: Lamb, Rosemary & Thyme, Lamb Shank
Served: Brown Bag Take Away
Tasting Notes:
Lamb, Rosemary & Thyme eaten first. Good action. Subtle. Nice use of herbs – accent the meat without overpowering the filling. Great pastry to filling balance. Good pastry density and consistency. High quality pie.
Lamb shank tasted second. Good quality pie. An elevated pie experience without being pretentious. This is a chef that respects her pie. Greater loft and a smaller footprint for the same volume. Sprinkled with poppy seeds for pleasing nutty accent. Light tomato element gives a delicate top note to the filling. Excellent design and flourish.

Secret Local-Favorite Pie Spot, Wanaka
Address Protected by Pie Illuminati, Address available upon successful application to Pie Club

Pies Tasted: Half size Lamb Shank, Full size Mince Pie
Served: Brown Bag Take Away
Tasting Notes:
Lamb Shank eaten first. Hearty, classic style. A working man’s pie. Ultra savory. Distinctive flavor. Hearty crust. Rustic. Satisfying. Half-size appropriate as the flavor is powerful enough as to turn a full-size into a hell of a lot of pie.
Mince pie eaten second. Shows great respect for the mince pie category. Has taken a classic and treated it seriously. Good integration of onions and a nice use of stock for flavor and moisture. Good flavor. Hearty. No one’s going to throw out that pie.

Visit to Jimmy’s Pie Headquarters, Roxburgh
143 Scotland St, Roxburgh

Not open on weekends. Still worth the pilgrimage. Jimmy’s pie purchased and enjoyed a few doors down at Teviot Tearoom.

Teviot Tearoom, Roxburgh
101 Scotland St, Roxburgh

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese
Served: White Bag Take Away, Cold Pie
Tasting Notes: Solid pie. Cheese adds additional subtlety and complexity to the Mince pie without being above itself or over the top. Category defining pie. Kiwi classic. Subtle use of cheese, well integrated. Totally works cold.

Welcome Swallow, Palmerston
113 Ronaldsway, Palmerston

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese
Served: Brown Bag Take Away
Tasting Notes:
Unique presentation. Square shaped pie rather than round. Utterly flakey, butter crust – delicious and in good proportion to the filling though so flakey it must be eaten with care to avoid mess. Delicious, savory and serious filling though avoids being uppity. Just damn good pie. Worth the stop.

Grain & Seed Cafe, Cromwell
Old Cromwell Town Melmore Terrace

Pies Tasted: Mince with Kumera top, Chicken & Cranberry
Served on a plate with a side salad, knife and fork.
Tasting Notes:
Chicken & Cranberry tasted first. Always taste the chicken pie first as it is harder to find good chicken pie. Chicken & cranberry pie turns out to be covered in fluffed egg, not crust. Egg top not visibly obvious due to carmelization from cooking. Egg fluff top clearly not pie but quiche. Not cool.
Mince with kumera top tasted second. Good pie. Savory. Quite flavorful and satisfying mince filling. Kumera top creative variation on traditional potato top. Smart use of kumera variation as the light bit of sweetness accentuates the flavors of the mince. Good bottom crust too. Good contrast after the horror of the egg top in previous pie, which shows a fundamental defining feature of pie – must be topped with carbohydrates/starch, that is crust or a root vegetable top.

The Doughbin 24-hr Walk-up Window, Wanaka
129 Ardmore St, Wanaka

note walkup window discretely placed on the side of the building
(insider secret)

Pies Tasted: Mince Pie
Served: Brown Bag Take Away at 3AM
Tasting Notes:
Well delivered middle of the night option. 24-hr walk up window stroke of genius. Wise move after drinking all the Pinot Noir. Well made pie.

Jimmy’s Pie Mobile Unit, on the move throughout Central Otago

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese
Served: White Bag Cold Pie Heated in the middle of a Rugby Tournament
Tasting Notes:
Testament to the consistency of Jimmy’s Pies. Good from the grocery. Good from the mobile pie truck.

The Metaphysical Conditions of Pie

Bottom crust necessary.

Top crust must be starch based, that is, made of carbohydrates. This is generally either a flour based crust like seen on the bottom, or a potato top. Other root vegetables can be made into a variation of the potato top when treated reasonably (see Kumara top variation at the Grain & Seed mentioned above as example).

Egg fluffed top clearly is not pie but quiche. Do not try to pass off quiche as pie. You will lose friends. Not cool.

Egg cut up and served inside a two crust pie with meat still counts as pie. In such a case the egg serves as a sort of filling rather than a structural component, which is the defining difference here. Even so, this is only desirable in rare cases when the ingredients of the cupboard are dim and one is forced to make it work.

Chicken pie should be approached with caution. Chicken barely counts as meat and so should only be used in pie in rare cases (see previous case of bare cupboards and making it work). Essentially, chicken and eggs serve similar roles in pie – only when necessary. This makes sense as chicken and eggs come from the same source and so have related roles. Which came first will not be considered here. Chicken pie should always be approached with caution not entirely because of issues with the meat itself. Much like Pinot Gris, chicken can be delicious but is often mistreated by people who wish to turn it into inappropriate variants like Chicken & Cranberry, Chicken & Brie, or Chicken Curry. These people usually do not have real jobs and instead fancy themselves writers or artists.

While meat pie such as steak, mince, or lamb are most traditional regional variants are traditional to specific areas. Fish pie, for example, has a long standing history in areas near water.

Fruit does not belong in savory pie. Fruit is for fruit pie.

Vegan pie is an oxymoron. If someone asks for vegan pie they are either taking the piss or they are serious. If they are serious it is time for you to walk away and leave them to their own devices.

Gluten-free pie only counts as pie if the crust was made with gluten free flour. See warnings about quiche.

Pie is an appropriate and helpful response to any of the following existential states: heartbreak, depression, hang over, rugby tournament, long hike, road trip, end of work day, after sex, before church.

If the pie available does not fulfill these conditions move along or get a sausage roll instead.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Pies! sustain viticulturists through harvest. when next in Marlborough try the Burleigh shop. a favourite stopping and catch up point for Marlborough growers and viti teams 🙂

    Mike Trought

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