For generations the steelmaking heartland of Sheffield has been rightly lauded as the manufacturing powerhouse of the region - while Doncaster boasting excellent rail, road and airport links has long been the ‘go to’ place for logistics.
Dan Fell, chief executive of Doncaster Chamber, expertly summed it up in a column for the Free Press a couple of years ago when he said the business community’s perception is: “Sheffield is great at making stuff and Doncaster is good at moving it” - but he was also keen to point out: “We are pretty good at making stuff in Donny too.”
Today the Free Press is launching the ‘Made In Doncaster’ campaign, in which we aim to shine the spotlight on some of the manufacturing firms that are doing the town proud. For the first in the series, community reporter Lee Peace was shown a slice of life at one of Doncaster’s top pie makers.
When Bill Topping opened his butcher’s shop in Scawsby in 1961, little did he know that it was the start of a multi award-winning company whose products would one day grace the deli counters at Selfridges, Harrods and upmarket grocery chain Booths.
Bill hung up his butchers apron in 1989 handing the baton to son Roger and his wife Maggie - and it was Maggie’s talent and passion for home baking that would establish the company as one of the premier pie makers in the region.
Demand for Toppings’ products dictates that the company must make its pies in bulk, rather than from a humble kitchen oven. Indeed some 28, 000 pies are produced every week from its headquarters at Waterside Industrial Estate.
But the key to the pies’ popularity is their closely guarded recipes.
Pie maker Maggie, who is now the managing director for product development, keeps tight lipped on how the pies are made.
“I can’t do that! They are all secret, but I will tell you a few things that make them special:- ingredients – only the best and sourced locally, a pinch of patience and a lot of practice.”
She still dons her apron and conjures up new recipes at home before handing the specifications over to a workforce of 30 people.
She added the idea is to ensure the hand-crafted pies are “as close to home made as possible” and made “under very strict rules and guidance to follow them to the letter.”
While Maggie remains creative in the kitchen, she also draws inspiration from master cooks from as far back as 500 years ago.
She said she found recipes which date back to Tudor times while sifting through old cook books in traditional book shops and these have inspired Toppings’ game and poultry and apricot and poultry pies.
These unusual creations, along with others such as game cherry and walnut and duck and guineafowl with cointreau and mandarin oranges, are held in such high regard they were sold for a number of years from the deli counter at upmarket department store Harrods in London.
Toppings also supplied two bespoke cutting pies for the Chairman’s Hamper, which contained some of the world’s finest foods and spirits handpicked by Harrods’ own culinary experts. Such was the exclusivity of these hampers, just one would have set you back £5000.
The firm also supplies a selection of quiches and dinky topped pork pies to the champagne bar and café at Selfridges in Manchester.
Toppings pies can also be found in Booths and Budgens supermarkets, alongside a range of independent delis, farm shops, butchers and garden centres across the UK.
But while these specialist pies have attracted the attention of top level buyers, the company’s major sellers remain the more traditional pies, such as family pork pies, huntsman and Yorkshire farmers’ pies.
Maggie’s son Matthew, sales and marketing director, said the company’s broader success as a business is all down to the core values of using family recipes and sourcing local produce.
The 41-year-old, of Epworth, said the secret to their success is “my mum’s fantastic family recipes and her passion to create something very special. The company ethos to only use the very best ingredients and never to cut corners. Add a mix of great staff and a lot of hard work and it’s a recipe for success.”
The popularity of their range has not been lost on pie experts either as the company has won more than 43 awards, including 33 coveted three star Gold Great Taste Awards.
Demand continues to grow and Toppings has undergone a period of expansion in recent years.
The firm has been a regular fixture in Doncaster’s market hall since the early 1970s, and in recent years has opened a stand in Frenchgate Shopping Centre and at Crystal Peaks Shopping Centre in Sheffield.
There are further plans to grow the company in the coming years.
Matthew said: “We are in the process of extending the bakery and enlarging our packing room to improve efficiencies and production. We are also looking to export our speciality pies and quiche into Europe.”
*Any Doncaster-based manufacturing businesses that would like to feature in our ‘Made In Doncaster’ campaign can email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 01302 347223.