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Tuesday, 20 October, 2009
October Bacon Review
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm pleased to present the monthly highlight at the JWB. The fact that it's late only adds to the anticipatory enjoyment.
Black Pig Bacon
Oven-fried at 400º F for 17 minutes.
In the last review, various readers noted that by their lights I'd been giving too many high bacon ratings. Black Pig Bacon, though unique from every meat I've reviewed here in the last year, will be no exception to my enthusiastic celebration of all things greasy and tasty. For all readers wary and weary of this eater's glee, I suggest you find another place where the pickings are paltry, the chewing joyless and the enthusiasm dulled.
Because, damn, Black Pig Bacon is Mi-T-Fine piggy! The bacon - a collaboration between chefs Duskie Estes and John Stewart from restaurants Zazu and Bovolo -- is a beautiful example of what California chefs do best - find superior foodstuffs, be they dairy, grains, vegetables, seafood or meat - and create dishes and preparations that emphasize the essential qualities of the original ingredient.
This edible Zen practice from the Central Coast may seem overly simple to some (the wary and weary perhaps?), but to me it is not only a sensitive and evolved art, but also highly respectful of the critters and plants we humans harvest to feed body and soul.
So, let's meditate on the subject of bacon for a moment, shall we? Some of my favorites this year have been almost as much about the processing as about the hog. Not so this time.
Black Pig Bacon takes a minimalist's approach and dry cures its Pure Country Pork Farm pork bellies. Yes, there are delicate touches of salt, brown sugar and applewood smoke when one bites into a medium sliced strip of lard de porc noir, but the primary taste and mouth feel is porky.
A certain close-to-the-bone spare rib flavor asserts itself as one chews and confuses the brain with signals that say, "slow down and savor this perfect pig" and "hurry-up and swallow, somebody else is going to empty the bacon plate!"
These are very ample strips with lovely marbling of both fat within meat and meat within fat (see the photo of sunlight beaming through a strip as illustration).
When oven fried, the bacon releases not only rendered fat, but also some darker cracklings such as one gets when roasting meats.
Unfortunately, I was an idiot and shared this 12-ounce package with two teenage boys. It would have been great to experiment on some other dishes with this superior and unique Central Coast bacon.
The Duskie Estes & John Stewart recipe for Black Pig Bacon and Asparagus Carbonara that was included with the BOTMC shipment looks excellent.
I must give this bacon the full compliment of 10 oinkers. It's a delight!
Professor Emeritus Curtis Curtington, Esq.
President and Founder, JWB Interplanetary Smoked Meat Division
Note: Additional photos and the recipe mentioned in the review can be
found in this zip file.
Saturday, 17 October, 2009
Bacon Review Tomorrow
I've been informed that a new bacon review will be submitted tomorrow. I will
post it ASAP. This time, it will feature bacon made from
a black pygmy
the Black Pig Meat Co.
Notice the subliminal message in the label? The word EAT is in read.
Tuesday, 06 October, 2009
One of the winning photos from the Best BLT Challenge Photo Contest.
Thursday, 01 October, 2009
September Bacon Review
Now that it's October, the September Bacon Review can be published.
J. Samuel Whiting Bacon
New Wilmington, PA
Oven fried to crispy at 400°for 13 minutes;
Pan fried to medium.
We are in the presence of greatness here. When you have the good fortune (as I just have had) to tuck in to a serving of J. Samuel Whiting Bacon, do so slowly, with patient reverence for the art and craft of bacon-making. Your careful contemplative chewing will be rewarded by a perfected maple cured meat experience of a significantly higher quality than any thin sliced bacon this reviewer has ever tasted.
Sam runs his own smokehouse and took 1st place in the 2005 Pennsylvania Meat Processor's Association competition, no doubt against many persnickety Pennsylvania pork participants. From these two tastings it is obvious that J. Samuel knows how to get the best local pork available from the farmers surrounding New Wilmington.
The meat itself is beautifully balanced between fat and lean with a substantial yet smooth consistency often lacking in thin sliced hog belly, therefore driving me to prefer thick sliced rashers. But with this bacon, the virtues of the thin slice (flavors more immediate on the tongue, a pleasant melting sensation, a nicer crispiness without the potential overcooked edges) become apparent. I would even say this bacon has widened my perspective of what a bacon reviewer must consider in judging a bacon's true worth, not unlike hearing a Wes Montgomery solo for the first time and thereafter having your understanding of what "guitar" is changed forever.
So finally, let's listen to the flavor. Sweetness dominates at first and continues to sound clearly as one chews. But smokey grace notes begin to accent the sweet in what becomes a pleasing call and response with each bite of this very delicately brined pork. Still, the final impression and pleasantly lingering aftertaste is savory, meaty and lush.
I never expected such a perfect bacon to come thinly sliced. Thanks for the edufication, Mr. Whiting. In nearly a year of taking bacon seriously, your composition resonates the most to this humble reviewer. I give J. Samuel Whiting Bacon 10 squealers out of a possible 10, and curse our resident Pennsylvania bacon lover for his good fortune.
- His Royal Highness Curtis Curtington
Senior Executive VP, Worldwide Smoked Meat Division
Note: All of the photos submitted for this review
are available in a
zip file. Also, stay tuned. Mr.
Curtington has promised a follow-up article describing soup made with this
Wednesday, 30 September, 2009
Bacon Review Tomorrow
I had several great blog posts planned for tomorrow, but they will have to wait. From the Senior Royal Executive VP, Worldwide Smoked Meat Division:
"I plan to make a soup recipe that came with this bacon that will make a nice photo, but I'm not going to delay the review until I get a chance to make that this weekend. Maybe you can just run that photo after the review to make people slather again? At any rate, I'll send the review tomorrow AM."
Here's a sneak preview for those who want to slather:
A slather-worthy bonus link: 100 ways to cook an egg.
Fat Skunk Loves Bacon
Bacon in the news: Obese skunk put on vegetarian diet to battle bacon addiction.
Mr. Bumble the skunk loves his bacon sandwiches, but his new owners have put him on a vegetarian diet to help shed the extra weight they've added to his frame.
At 14 pounds, Mr. Bumble is twice his ideal weight. His previous owners, who indulged his love for pork, gave him to the RSPCA and he now lives at Tropiquaria animal park near Watchet, Scotland where he's fed fruit and vegetables.
His new healthy diet, along with a daily exercise regimen, should help him shed the extra 7 pounds that have made his naturally sleek body so rotund. Skunks' natural diet in the wild is made up of insects, mice, greenery and dead animals.
Monday, 28 September, 2009
Bacon Review Imminent?
I haven't received the official word from the Senior Executive VP, Worldwide Smoked Meat Division, but I think a bacon review will appear soon.
It's been four weeks since the last one, and I just feel it in my bones.
Thursday, 03 September, 2009
Seems like a lot of work, but it might be worth it: Meatini.
I had a wonderful dream! A dream of a cocktail of meat! Specifically, a full English fried breakfast served in a cocktail glass made of bacon. Once in every lifetime true revelation strikes a man, and this was my moment of total clarity! This was my chance to make a mark on history!
You'll find lots of photos, all leading up to the end result:
Here is the Meatini in its full glory! Complete with mushroom umbrella, sausage swizzle stick and cherry tomato cherry! It's the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!
Monday, 31 August, 2009
August Bacon Review
Or maybe it's the September Bacon Review. Whatever.
BAYOU BRAND FULLY COOKED BACON
Oven fried at 350° for 4 minutes;
Pan seared as seafood wrap in grape seed oil & splash of balsamic vinegar
This was a cooking and reviewing challenge because Nodine's bacon is packaged fully-cooked and has a different approach to seasoning. My first tasting was in a classic breakfast - eggs over easy, hash browns and bacon. It was important to judge how Nodine's measured up to standard raw bacons when prepared the way God intended pork bellies to be used in soothing early morning human appetites.
All in all, in this sacred and essentially conservative context, Nodine's did
not disappoint, but neither did it induce rapture. It's meaty and fatty in the
right way, conveniently fast to prepare and very flavorful without heavy
saltiness (and not too hot as one might expect given its Bayou moniker). But it
has a certain aspect that is more like sausage than rashers. I noted perhaps a
hint of cumin or cardamom that, while very pleasant, didn't really seem very
baconesque. Still, it has the right texture and I would never kick it
out of bed off my plate.
* * *
But in my second preparation and tasting, I finally came to understand the true genius of Nodine's unique bacon handling. And genius it is -- beware of dismissing this Connecticut smokehouse's true innovation or you will unnecessarily deny yourself a very worthwhile eating pleasure.
It turns out that this bacon's whole raison d'etre is as an ingredient for some very classic bacon enhanced (and naughty) dishes. When I prepared some bacon-wrapped pan seared scallops just to test my hunch, I bit into the most succulent and subtly spiced examples of that seafood appetizer I have ever tasted. The pre-cooked bacon allowed the delicate scallop to be quickly seared to perfection with a bacon wrap that melded beautifully both in texture and flavor with the seafood it contained.
I am tempted to go out to get a small fillet mignon and test another hunch I have about this bacon, but then I'd also be forced by my professional bacon reviewer integrity to make a bacon cheeseburger washed down with a can of Surly Furious beer and in the words of Richard Nixon, "That would be wrong." Damn you Nodine's for your Bayou Bacon's siren song!
Because it is much more than decent as a breakfast bacon and beyond perfect for its real purpose as a noble ingredient, I give Nodine's Smokehouse Bayou Brand Bacon 9 pigs on the 10-pig scale.
Senior Executive VP, Worldwide Smoked Meat Division
Sunday, 30 August, 2009
Bacon Review Coming Up
The Senior Executive VP of Bacon Reviews has informed me that another bacon review is forthcoming. At this point, I can't say when it will be posted. But I can tell you one thing: It's Bayou Brand Bacon - BBB.
Thursday, 27 August, 2009
Four people told me about this, so it must be good: Tactical Canned Bacon.
Tactical Canned Bacon is the very best canned bacon we've ever tasted. Not mushed up like dog food, this bacon is in actual strips - blessed with the magic of preservatives to last over 10 years in the can. Sure, you have to refrigerate after opening, but we bet you'll eat it all too quick to worry about that.
It's $15.99 per can, and it has 18 servings per can (1 serving = 3 slices)
Wednesday, 05 August, 2009
Bacon Reviewer Gets Promoted
I'm pleased to announced that Curtis Curtington, former Senior Bacon Reviewer, has been promoted. His new job title is Executive VP, Bacon Reviews Division.
Try this taste-tempting Texas Two-Step, featuring one pound each of our Comal County Sliced Bacon, Peppered Comal County Sliced Bacon, Canadian-Style Bacon and Peppered Canadian-Style Bacon. A "can't miss" gift for that bacon lover on your list!
They even sent Curtis a Bacon Bonanza -- which means I won't have to pay him this month. Please join me in congratulating Curtis for a job well done.
Tuesday, 28 July, 2009
August Bacon Review
You can stop bugging me with all the email. The wait is over. Ladies and germs, here's this month's bacon review.
New Braunfels Smokehouse
Comal County Peppered Bacon
Pan fried - sampled two strips alone &
remaining bacon in BLT with Avocado (BLAT)
This is the best pork I've ever laid a lip to. Texas Germans apparently know what the hell to do out back in the smokehouse and New Braunfels Wurstmeister, Rocky Tays obviously has the chops for chops and the whole hog as well.
His peppered bacon comes thick cut in a superior vacuum pack that holds some briny moisture next to its smoky contents. On opening, the bacon releases a slightly pungent aroma of pork, smoke and pepper that might cause some less-experienced bacon reviewers to drool. To veterans, the mouth-watering pork perfume just spurs them into action and pans heat up as anticipation slowly blossoms into chewy satisfaction.
I first tasted two unadorned, just-drained strips to experience this impressive looking bacon's full measure of flavors and texture.
It is a remarkable and perfect bacon - meaty, yet melting with just enough salt, sweet and smoke to emphasize the lovely pork essence that is the melody those flavor harmonies accent. This is a bacon that should maybe even be served on its own as a course, it's that complex and flavorful, though not at all fussy as this notion might imply.
Nonetheless, because I had some beautiful home-grown tomatoes and my favorite type of avocado, a Fuerte, on hand, I decided to make a BLT with avocado (aka - BLAT).
The rich meatiness, yet subtle sweet smoke of the bacon made it very well suited to this use. The July tomato was as sweet as a berry and gave a gentle acidic boost to the smoked meat. Meanwhile, the avocado's grassy musk and oily flesh emphasized the bacon's delicious fat.
Of all the bacons I have dutifully consumed this year, this is the first one that compares to almost any of my favorite food experiences. It is also a bacon I heartily suggest readers go out of their way to taste for themselves.
I give New Braunfels Smokehouse Comal County Peppered Bacon ten pigs out of ten, but if it were possible, I'd rate it a full barn of snorters.
- Curtis Curtington
Senior Bacon Reviewer
Editor's Note: The photos for this month's review were especially good. A few are suitable for framing, and would not be out of place in some of the better museums. Because of space limitations, I could only post a few images -- and they were cropped and reduced in size. Because Curtis didn't say I couldn't, I have made all seven original photos available in a zip file.
Monday, 06 July, 2009
July Bacon Review
Another in the most popular series on this blog.
Newsom's Old Mill Store
Hickory Smoked Country Bacon
Pan fried both crispy and not,
served with French toast and in a BLT
I guess as a Northerner I'm not ready for the saltiness of the cured meats made in the Southern United States, if the southern bacon I've gotten this year is any indication. This estimable rasher, made since 1917 in one of the oldest structures in Princeton, Kentucky by Colonel Bill Newsom and two proceeding generations of Newsoms, has well-balanced fat to lean proportions, a hint of sugar and a lusty amount of smoke in both nose and mouth.
But for my palate, the bacon is somewhat overwhelmed by the salt that has been favored over the brown sugar with which the hog bellies have been rubbed prior to:
"undergo[ing] a mystical process involving time, nature and Nancy [Newsom Mahaffrey's] kettle, which fills the hanging house with dense hickory smoke from floor to rafter."
Nevertheless, the quality of the meat and the smoking overcame the limitations of what may be just a regional preference and I was able to thoroughly appreciate the bacon's more impressive qualities. (Also, I find it quite a pleasure to realize, through this year of bacon abandon, that regional differences still exist in our so-called Fast Food Nation.)
What perhaps saved the first tasting of Newsom's was having served it with French toast and maple syrup.
My first two bites of bacon seemed unpleasantly salty and although the mouth feel was superb in its silkiness and pliant chewiness, it wasn't until I got a little Grade B maple syrup on the meat that its hickory asserted itself above the salt and really allowed the pig to snort. An excellent result and a strip that is equally satisfying either served crispy or not.
The saltiness of the bacon also made it a very good choice for a beautiful early July BLT with fresh tomatoes, five-grain bread and butter bib lettuce all from a local farmer's market. The sweet acidity of the room temperature tomato, its slices slightly warmed by the hot bacon, made a wonderfully balanced flavor with lettuce's hint of bitter and the sturdy, fresh grainy texture of the bread. I cannot imagine a more perfect bacon to make this classic American sandwich.
I give Newsom's Old Mill Store Hickory Smoked Country Bacon eight out of ten pigs.
Friday, 26 June, 2009
The Bacon Brothers
Anything cuter than three youngsters dressed in bacon suits? Found at Awkward Family Photos.
Sunday, 21 June, 2009
Father’s Day Bacon Review
Our resident bacon reviewer submitted a new piece.
Father's Day Bacon
Chase Brook Natural "Cottage" Bacon - griddle fried
Though cured as bacon, this farm direct bacon from Milaca, Minnesota isn't actually "bacon." It's made from boned pork shoulder, rather than pork bellies, and is designed to be "a great BLT" or hamburger bacon.
Which is not to say I ate it that way. I wanted to judge it at the breakfast table along side some aihggs & hashies. I think this is a presentation that best allows for a thorough and proper assessment of a bacon's true stature.
It is a testament to Chase Book Natural's apparently excellent swine ("Our Animals Are Vegetarians, So You Don't Have To Be") that their unique product stood up very well to this assessment.
The pork has an almost old fashioned marbled heft so that using a lean cured cut does not lack a very bacon-y sort of succulence. But the meat also doesn't produce a lot of rendered fat and hence is frankly more pleasant to prepare than traditional bacon. The bacon cooks up on a stove top with very minimal spatter and a pleasant bacon aroma that doesn't linger in your house all day.
The flavor is quietly sweet, smoky and salty - enough to let you know that you're chewing a rasher, but in a tone that respects the essential flavor qualities of the noble critter it came from. I find such a quality very pleasant and fairly unique among the bacons I've been privileged to consume this year of living piggishly on J-Walk's dime.
Now for the bad news - this WAS NOT a Bacon of the Month Club selection. I found it at a local farmer's market here in Saint Paul and I don't know if they ship anywhere. I reviewed it here simply to suggest to JWB readers that they look for similar meat, poultry and fish purveyors in their own locales. It's well worth it.
I give this bacon eight out of ten pigs.
Note: Now those are some nice-looking eggs! Too bad the hash browns are burned.
Friday, 05 June, 2009
Another Bacon Review
The latest in a series.
North Country Smokehouse
Applewood Smoked Bacon
Prepared three ways: oven fried at 425°; sauteed in 1/2 TBL unsalted butter for Carbonara sauce; pan-fried.
This is an excellent bacon from New Hampshire with enough character to subtly assert itself along side a strong reggiano in Carbonara sauce, but to also take center stage in a hearty north country style breakfast. There is nothing overdone in the smoking or brining of the pork and because each strip is a thick slice of obviously very high quality pork belly, this masterful conditioning simply accents the meatiness of the lean and the silkiness of the fat (applause inserted here).
This is notable because one criticism of artisanal foodstuffs, (due quite likely to the explosion of interest in small batch, hand crafted everything and the subsequent influx of new and inexperienced food and beverage artisans), is that they too often go for making big statements rather than having an interesting dialog with us.
Fortunately, North Country Smokehouse was founded in 1912 and therefore long ago shed any such greenhorn tendencies. Theirs is a fully mature multi-generational craft that continues an important food tradition forward. There are not very many such interesting and lively food stalwarts out there to be experienced. Current owner, Mike Satzow, whose grandfather started out selling meat from a horse drawn wagon almost one hundred years ago, is to be commended for recognizing the richness of his family's legacy and preserving much more than just meat in the process.
I prepared this three ways because I was duly impressed with the bacon's high quality on the first tasting, which I had to solo on because the teenage boys who are usually my co-test pilots couldn't ride along this month (except for one emergency landing, more on that later).
The oven-fried and pan-fried tastings were no different from one another, with one small exception which I'll get to in a bit. The bacon's smoke has a pleasantly wispy tang and the salt is perfectly balanced by the sweet . Few smoked meats I've ever eaten have this perfectly balanced effect. The only difference between the two preparations I noted above was that the pan-fried session used the bacon renderings as a base for frying the sunnyside up eggs. This was an excellent use of the bacon and added a nice savor to the hen fruit.
But another true pleasure of this bacon pound was using half of it in an "oh, damn, the cupboard's bare" preparation of Spaghetti Carbonara for my son and myself on a busy weeknight. I also used some of the renderings in that sauce, but the remarkable aspect of the meal was how beautifully the thick dices of bacon mingled with the slightly melty Reggiano Parmesan for not only a wonderfully smooth yet chewy texture but also a comforting blend of savory and substantial flavor at the end of a hectic day.
I give North Country Smokehouse Applewood Smoked Bacon 10 pigs on a 10 pig scale.
Nice review -- except for that photo of burnt eggs. Fried eggs should not be brown.
Saturday, 25 April, 2009
This month's bacon review was submitted by Los Grantos -- who is the best friend of Curtis' son, Hank.
JOHNSTON COUNTY HAMS
Genuine Hickory Smoked Dry Sugar Cured Bacon
(from Smithfield, NC)
Cooking method: Oven baked at 400° F
I sit at the table, looking at the last drops of coffee in my "World's Best Donuts" mug. The french bulldog is barking to be let in, while chef Curtis prepares the meal. Henry is calculating, and Mrs. Curtis is sorting through a confusing bunch of drapery samples, attempting to find the perfect drapery. I, the new bacon reviewer and guest numero uno of the Curtington roadhouse breakfast club, patiently await what promises to be a phenomenal breakfast. Mrs. Curtis, our vegetarian friend, begs off Saturday bacon hour, so it's guy time.
Today's bacon selection is from Johnson County Hams, of humble Smithfield, North Carolina. The greasy strips of ideal length appear succulent, deceiving me. This is not to imply the bacon is not worth a good chewing, but it has some significant faults.
But first the positive. Not only is the bacon a decent compliment to an ideal diner-style breakfast, it would also be an adequate substitute for pancetta in spaghetti alla carbonara. The taste contains pleasurable elements, but the amount of salt added is overbearing, distracting from the other flavors. The excess salt is capable of striking a normally healthy individual with a near-fatal case of hypertension.
Another fault of the bacon involves a packaging misnomer. Johnson County Hams claims the bacon is sugar-cured, but my palate detected no sweetness whatsoever, due to the grotesque saltiness. Without the excess salt, this bacon would have garnered a 9 out of 10 pigs rating, but since the salt is immensely distracting, this bacon is worthy of only a 5 out of 10 pigs rating.
- Los Grantos