Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How different is your artisanal bacon from that which is mass produced really?

Being a small, artisanal producer who crafts premium bacon from free range pork by using old fashioned dry- curing methods and plenty of hand labour, when I’m asked this question my short answer is, very.
Firstly as I’ve already said, my bacon is free range.
But let’s leave that out of this particular discussion. How I go about making my bacon is very different too.  In fact other than that our bacon is all made from pork that’s been cut into slabs, cured, smoked and sliced, there is nothing much else about the process that’s the same.
My research shows that mass produced bacon is made in a matter of hours by machines. Whereas, without giving away all my secrets, I can tell you that my bacon is made over many days and almost all of the work is done by hand.
Their process usually begins with frozen pork that’s thawed and tumbled in a metal drum to soften the meat. I always begin with fresh pork which gives the bacon a better texture and flavour than when it’s been frozen.
Theirs is then placed on hangers and pumped full of a liquid cure solution, which includes curing salts such as sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite, as well as phosphates that bind the water to the cells in the meat and plump it up .Mine is dry-cured, which means I hand rub each slab  with a dry mixture of herbs, sugars, salt, and a  small amount of curing salts and then, turning it daily, I leave it in this mix for a number of days so that it can properly permeate the meat and intensify  the flavours.
Often instead of actually smoking the meat, they add liquid smoke and other flavourings such as sweeteners, herbs and spices to their cure and then, when the slabs have been curing for a few hours, they’re sprayed with more liquid smoke and heated in a thermal processing unit, which is called the smokehouse. When my slabs are completely  cured I hang each one in my smokehouse where it  slow smokes over oak wood chips for hours and hours, with me adding more chips every half hour or so.
Finally their slabs are quickly chilled, machine-pressed into a uniform shape, sliced and packaged for sale. Whereas I have no way of creating a uniform shape, so my slices are not all the same size, but surely that’s all part of the charm of hand made.

So just to recap, artisanal bacon takes lots more time and hand labour and real wood smoke to make. The extended curing time intensifies the pork flavour and shrinks the meat, and because no brine is pumped in, you pay only for meat and the bacon doesn’t shrivel at all in the pan. And most important of all, it just tastes so much better.

I’m out to cure the world.