|Bacons||Tasting 1||Tasting 2||Total||Ranking|
|1) Vande Rose (Iowa)||7||2||9||5/6 Tie|
|2) House of Sticks (California)||6||8||14||Third Place|
|3) Nueske's (Wisconsin)||5||1||6||7/8/9 Tie|
|4) Benton's (Tennessee)||11||5||16||Second Place|
|5) Niman Ranch (Iowa)||1||5||6||7/8/9 Tie|
|6) Broadbent's (Kentucky)||10||2||12||Fourth Place|
|7) Nodine's (Connecticut)||5||4||9||5/6 Tie|
|8) Bi-Rite (California)||4||14||18||First Place|
|9) Edwards (Virginia)||4||2||6||7/8/9 Tie|
The major bacon differentiators include: pig breed, pig feed, spices and length of curing, wet or dry curing, type of wood used for smoking, and length of smoking. (When comparing bacons from different countries, make sure you know which pig part you're eating. Some areas of the world use the back and loin of a pig instead of the belly, which we use in the States.)
Official Notes from the 18 Reasons Tasting: (errors are in original)
[First Place Winner] Bi-Rite's House-Cured Bacon - San Francisco. Butcher Chili Montes sources Becker Lane Organic Pork Bellies to make Bi-Rite's house bacon. Becker Lane is a fourth generation family farm who grows their own organic feed, which doesn't include corn. This is the same pork that Herb Eckhouse uses for his exquisite La Quercia prosciutto. Montes dry-cures the meat in a mixture of salt, sugar, nutmeg, juniper, thyme, bay, garlic and nitrite for about seven days. He then smokes it for about 6 hours over sugar maple hardwood.In case you're interested, I voted for Bi-Rite and for Nodine's. It's interesting that Nodine's didn't come near the top in this tasting considering that it was "rated #2 in the country in the most recent California Bacon Cook-Off."
[Second Place Winner] Benton's Bacon - Eastern Tennessee. Allen Benton has always been passionate about using the best pork. He sources small batches of old heritage breeds (primarily Berkshire) from farms that raise their pigs humanely, on pasture, where they are not confined to a small space or made to live on concrete. Benton's is known for its intense smoky flavor, and is sliced thick. `Whatever you do, don't overcook it - take it out the moment it gets crispy!' warns Benton.
[Third Place Winner] House of Sticks Bacon - San Francisco. From their friends at Prather Ranch, Dave Le and Ryan Freitas source pork bellies from heritage pigs (Berkshire and Tamworth breeds) which are raised locally on an organic and, more importantly, varied diet. They cure them with a mix of brown sugar, salt, black pepper and bay leaf that brings out a rich savory character in the final product.
If you'd like to know more about artisanal producers, the history of bacon, great recipes such as Bacon Mayonnaise and chocolate bacon gravy, get Ari's book. Ari's favorite bacon recipe is American Fried Bread, which he found in a 1914 cookbook. This recipe basically involves soaking up bacon fat with bread, and frying the bread. He recommends Zingerman's Roadhouse rye bread for that recipe.
Ari's other exploits currently include training business owners how to train their staff. Last week, he conducted such a session at San Francisco's Ferry Building for the vendors. At the time of the session, I heard that Jacky Recchiuti was meeting with Ari and was hoping for a new bacon chocolate bar to be born, but alas and alack, they were not meeting about that. Ari's next book may be an anarchist's guide to building a great business because of his studies of Russian History at the University of Michigan.
Bacon Fat Mayonnaise
Makes about 2 cups
Adapted from Ari Weinzweig's "Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon" (Zingerman's Press, 2009). N.B.: this will look different from traditional mayonnaise.
• 5 egg yolks
• 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
• 7 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1 1/2 cups rendered bacon fat (saved from frying bacon)
• 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
• Freshly ground Tellicherry or other black pepper to taste
Instructions: Chill all ingredients and utensils (including the mixing bowl) down to about 40°. Don't skip this step or the mayonnaise may break.
Beat the egg yolks, mustard and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the lemon juice in a blender or mixing bowl on high for 2 minutes, until well-blended.
Add in the bacon fat (no need to add gradually if everything's properly chilled), continuing to beat until the mixture is thick. Depending on how thick and rich you like your mayonnaise, you may or may not need the entire amount of fat.
Slowly blend in the remaining lemon juice, sea salt and pepper, whipping it pretty much continuously throughout. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Now I'm off to invest in pork belly futures!