Protect our Parmo!
Mayor demands official status for 2,000-calorie post-pub delicacy
The deep-fried, calorie-laden ‘Parmo’ has for decades been regarded in the North East as the best way to satisfy hunger at the end of a night out.
It’s even defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, where the name is said to originate from the parmesan cheese often used to top the treat.
But the local Mayor’s campaign to secure Protected Designation of Origin status for the dish has been met with protests by health campaigners and politicians.
Promoting a ‘monstrous’ food containing about 2,000 calories per serving in a region with among the highest obesity rates in the country has not gone down well.
Conservative Ben Houchen, 30, who became the first Mayor of Tees Valley in May, said the community should take ‘pride’ in the local delicacy. He launched his campaign under the slogan ‘Proud of the Parmo’ and was photographed eating one on a visit to the local factory, which produces 10,000 Parmos a week.
Said to have been introduced to Middlesbrough in 1958 by a former American army chef, the Parmo is made by deep-frying a flattened piece of breaded chicken. It is covered in bechamel sauce, topped with grated cheese (often parmesan but not always) and grilled.
It can also be made with pork escalope and variations include pizza-type toppings such as pepperoni or mushrooms. Mr Houchen wants it to be given official EU protected status like the Melton Mowbray pork pie, Cumberland sausage and Parma ham.
A PDO applies to products which must be produced, processed or prepared within a specific geographical area and have a reputation, features or qualities attributable to that location.
Public health nutritionist Yvonne Wake said: ‘It’s sad that someone like this should be fighting the corner of the Parmo as opposed to a healthy dish.’ The National Obesity Forum’s chairman Tam Fry described the Parmo as ‘ a beast’ and the Mayor’s backing as ‘horrendous’. Mr Fry said a 2,000calorie portion represented 80 per cent of a man’s entire recommended daily calorie intake.
He said: ‘When someone asks me why North-East [obesity] figures are so high, I can answer in two syllables – Parmo. You would have to be an Olympic athlete to eat it without effect.’
While Jenny Chapman, the Labour MP for nearby Darlington, said: ‘ Residents will be asking what is in his head, he has responsibilities and must take them seriously.’ But Mr Houchen insisted: ‘We need to officially protect the provenance of this local delicacy and must make it abundantly clear that the genuine article is only from Teesside.’
The Parmo is served in takeaways and is on the menu at restaurants in the region. But Michelin-starred chef Michael O’Hare, who comes from Middlesbrough and runs the trendy Man Behind The Curtain in Leeds, has described them as ‘disgusting’ and says he’d never serve one.
Sample: Mayor Mr Houchen