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Express & Star features writer wades in on Black Country pork scratchings debate

Features writer Mark Andrews wades in on the latest pork scratching debate after an artisan cheese-maker has come under fire for new twists on the Black Country delicacy...

Mark Andrews judging Banks's Brewery Pork Idol in 2009
Mark Andrews judging Banks's Brewery Pork Idol in 2009

You think you have seen everything, and then this comes along.

Habanero pork scratchings. Is someone taking the pig? What the pork is habanero when it's at home?

Well, actually when it's at home, it is probably pretty harmless. But it's sure got no place in the Black Country. Because habanero, and I've looked this up on Wikipedia so it must be true, is a type of very hot chilli which originates in Mexico.

Mexico! What is the world coming to? Next thing you know, they will be trying to flog us paella-flavoured faggots.

Take it from me, I know my pork scratchings. Probably the high point of my career was being asked to judge the Banks's Brewery 2009 Pork Idol contest, to decide which scratchings the company would serve in its pubs. Plate after plate of the finest pork products were laid out in front of me, along with copious amounts of mild ale to ensure I was able to get the pairings right. And there was not a habanero – or any other Mexican chilli – in sight.

Mark Andrews judging Banks's Brewery Pork Idol in 2009

I know Britain is changing, tastes are becoming more diverse as people try new things and broaden their horizons. But the whole point of pork scratchings, and indeed wider Black Country culture, is to be a bulwark against change for change's sake. We know that the Black Country is the best place in the world, so what can we possibly learn from anywhere else?

Actually, I will confess, I have occasionally dabbled in 'gourmet' pig products. Indeed, I have found Snaffling Pig Co's balsamic and sea salt crackling quite moreish, if a little pricey, and the Real Pork Crackling Co's mustard flavour are also OK when you fancy a change. Even KVE, arguably the Rolls-Royce of scratchings, made in the epicentre of the global pork snack trade at Factory Road, Tipton, has diversified a little in recent years, introducing 'leaf scratchings' (not my thing), as well as the cheaper and more commonplace pork rinds alongside its exquisite lard-based scratchings.

But there have to be limits. Curry-flavoured pork scratchings, which began to appear a few years ago, are just wrong. I bought some by mistake a couple of years ago, and they were every bit as gross as I expected them to be, the sort of thing you might expect a lager drinker to buy.

And habanero scratchings sound, well how can I put this delicately, a bit metrosexual? The sort of thing that people who turn up to work in chinos and brown shoes might carry in their rucksack to eat with the coffee they walk around town with.

I suppose if it opens pork scratchings to a wider audience, and weans them off the disgusting abomination that are potato crisps, then some good might come of it. But it ay Black Country, is it?

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