IF SOMEONE asked you what Hyndburn was famous for, it’d be a sin not to mention the fact it’s the home of the pie.
Hollands Pie Factory in Baxenden has been making pies for more than 150 years from what started out as a small sweet shop owned by John Whittaker in 1851.
The business was soon to be renamed by his employee Mr Richard Holland, and it was from here that the foundations were laid for today’s thriving business.
More than a century on, and Hollands is still taking the upmost pride in creating the perfect pie.
So much so, they hit headlines in 2008, when pie-lovers from across the globe applied to become one of 15 expert pie tasters on their prestigious tasting panel.
One man who had the ‘pie-factor’ was Oswaldtwistle's Andrew McCrimmon who, in the comfort of Abbey Fryers chippy last week, filled me in on how he was picked to be on the elite panel, beating applicants from as far away as Pakistan.
I was also invited to try out Holland's ‘Best Ever’ range which was launched last month and in the name of journalism, I had to oblige.
"It all started when a friend of mine sent me an email saying they were looking for pie-tasters," Andrew said.
"What attracted me was that I’d always eaten Hollands pies, but food in general also interests me."
Andrew and the other applicants were asked to describe in 50 words why they thought they would be fit for the job.
"I expressed my love of food," he said, "and talked about Hollands being in its own right, very popular in the North West.
"When I was a kid, my mum used to make steak and kidney pudding and I’ve been eating pies at football matches since I was eight, so they have always been part of my life.
"I got an email back asking me to come to the tasting sessions which took place over two days which was a nice surprise."
Product development manager Maria Yuste said: "We had 800 people apply from places as far as Pakistan, Holland, the USA there was worldwide interest.
"We whittled it down to 60 from their 50-word captions, and invited them to the testing stage where we scored them on their performance."
But this was no quick test as it turned out.
There was a rigorous series of tasks which proved to be very challenging.
Blindfolded, the applicants were given a strange concoction of five different types of food and, using their expert tastebuds, were expected to identify the pretty unpalatable mix of jam, peas, butter, olives and sweet corn.
Other ‘pie-factor’ tests included having to describe how food looked and tasted, and identifying the difference between a number of cheeses and a number of different pieces of meat.
"We wanted to see if people could express themselves under pressure and if they were articulate," Maria said.
But the big test, she said, was to identify out of a selection of pies which was the original Hollands.
"We filled two tables of pies to see if they knew what a Holland's pie looked like and then there was a short written test."
Finally, a panel of 15 pie tasters was decided, made up of applicants from around the North West.
Andrew, a staff nurse at the Royal Blackburn Hospital, was the only person from Accrington to be given the prestigious crown.
"When it came down to it it was done very seriously," he said, "but it sounds worse than it was – it was very relaxed."
So down to the real test " Was this ‘best ever' range worth the wait?
Well, according to Marie, the new improved pies (and puddings) have come from careful research among their most loyal customers – the ones in the North West – and the result is a selection of pies which have been subtly altered to suit their taste, in keeping with the latest healthy eating guidelines issued by the Food Standards Agency. This includes peppered steak, vegetarian cheese and onion, meat and potato, chicken and mushroom, steak and kidney pie, and meat pie.
"My favourite has always been the steak and kidney pudding," Andrew said, "because I like the suet pastry.
"But peppered steak is definitely becoming a possible favourite as well."
I can see why. I’m not what you could call a ‘pie eater’ but a sample of each certainly tells me that Hollands take care in their flavour.
The steak is as good as any you might get in an upmarket restaurant and I am very impressed with the seasoning.
The pastry, Andrew tells me is also very ‘shortcrust’.
Some people like their pastry flaky, but customer feedback said they wanted pies that didn't fall apart when they were eaten whole at a football match.
The result is a very solid pastry based on their traditional ‘war time recipe’ derived from times when rations were low, and pastry was made with a relatively low fat content.
So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Andrew, who also has a string of TV extra roles on his CV, is a very svelte six foot who doesn’t look like he has eaten too many pies!
"People expect me to be about 20 stone before they meet me," he said. "Pies have a very traditional following and are very important to people in Accrington.
"But I do eat a range of different food and would love to continue being involved with food on a professional level. "But I won't eat a pie for weeks now!"