There is something inherently good about bacon. To purgatory with broccoli, soy, wheatgrass or edamame, bacon is Nature’s Nearly Perfect Food. It is the belly of a pig, cured in a salt brine, then smoked for your enjoyment. Fried in a pan, the fat melts away, leaving goodness behind to titillate your taste buds with a symphony of four-part fatty harmonies overlaying the salty melody and a crunchy bass line.
Be it from the belly, the side, the back, the jowl or even the shoulder, bacon is good. If it weren’t for the inherent health risks, most of us, being honest, would eat bacon four times a day, every day. Even those with dietary restrictions long for the beauty of bacon. Why do you think some cultures brine, spice and smoke beef? To approximate the taste of that most terrible of treyf: Bacon.
Today, bacon is most commonly sold cooked and ready to eat. Fourteen slices, or barely 200 grams that you can microwave for 11 seconds and put next to the eggs and toast. Someone in a boardroom somewhere decided, after much market research, that we didn’t want a half kilo or a pound of bacon, we just wanted fourteen slices after cooking.
We wouldn’t notice that each slice was cut so thin that it only had one side. We wouldn’t notice that each slice was barely big enough to qualify for adhesive bandage membership. We wouldn’t notice that the price per pound was up over $5. We surely wouldn’t object if the actual product tastes almost exactly not like bacon at all, corners being cut for production convenience. Most assuredly, we consumers would be amazed by the blazing beacon of bacon convenience, pre-sliced, pre-cooked and pre-measured for our convenience and their profit.
Which is why today’s bacon is so distressing. Bacon is not supposed to be so thin that your can do Thai shadow puppets through it. A certain burger chain advertises their creation as having six strips of bacon. If the measure ‘strip’ is equivalent to the lineal dimensions of the Penny Black stamp, yes, it has six strips of transparent smoked and salted pork-residue related product. Bacon was created to have substance, heft and taste; not just of fat, salt and smoke, but also the taste of Pork.
Bacon, until metrification stirred the waters in Canada, circa 1971, was sold by the pound. 454 grams of raw, salty, smoked Grace that you had to cook. You could buy it unsliced, as a plate of bacon that you cut as thick as you wanted, or chopped it into cubes of Goodness for perogies.
There was also the niche product called Green Bacon, salt brined (but not smoked) pork belly, which has gone MIA from the marketplace; It is more profitable for the manufacturers to turn it into pseudo-bacon and shovel at us in a resealable package as part of a marriage proposal.
By the way, notice the weight of that convenient resealable package of potential goodness. Is is actually a metric-standard 500 grams? Is it 454 grams, the convenient and familiar pound? Nope, it’s less but still priced at what you would expect for a pound of bacon bliss. It just looks like its a pound. Read the label.
However, there are still some practitioners of the Noble Art of Bacon, who sell their products in your average supermarket. You have to root around on the bacon altar to find them, but they’re there. There is a PC-brand “Olde Fashioned – Farm Style” kilogram package that tastes like bacon, has enough heft per slice to have a full three dimensions and actually contains lean meat as part of the slice. Occasionally some western brands sneak over the Ontario-Manitoba border that taste and look like bacon. Frenchy’s comes to mind.
In Quebec, there are several producers that take their art seriously. In the Spring, you can get Oreilles de crisse, which is brined, smoked and deep-fried pork jowl. The literal translation from Quebecois is Christ’s Ears, but despite the confusing and disturbing moniker, it’s bacon: Excellent, perfectly proportioned lean to fat to salt to smoke, bacon, served screechingly hot with eggs poached in amber #2 maple syrup. Yes, it’s more calories than most people eat in a month, but once a year, it’s a dietary choice you make, then enjoy.
There are regional brands that bring burning wood smoke near the pork bellies instead of showing four tons of frozen pork a photo of a smoker and yelling “Hickory”. There is even a Bacon of the Month Club. Look it up if you don’t believe it.
I have personally consumed artisanal oak-double-smoked bacon that transcends mere rhapsodic linguistic gymnastics to land and stick a half-gainer dismount onto the crunchy scented floor of Bacon Heaven outside Flavour Town: A now-closed butcher shop made it in the back. It wasn’t merely good Bacon; it was Communion.
As chef and author Anthony Bourdain said: “God lives between the skin and the bone of a pig” Amen Brother Tony. Amen.