That intoxicating smell, the siren-call sizzle — looks like pop culture has gone hog wild
VIDEO: How bacon is made
There was a discordant chorus of queasy squealing this past month, when the US Food and Drug Administration announced that “food from cattle, swine, and goat clones is as safe to eat as that from their more conventionally bred counterparts.”
Canadian bacon: our neighbor to the north
You know it. You’ve eaten it. It’s round. Sometimes rubbery. Goes great on pizza. But it lacks, as the Québecois would say, a certain je ne sais quoi. Actually, je sais quoi: there’s no glistening, slippery fat. And the crisp factor, simply put, is just not the same. “Not to diss it, but Canadian bacon is made out of a pork loin that's really lean,” says KO Prime’s Jamie Bissonette. “Usually, it’s brined, then fried. It’s more like ham than it is bacon. It is delicious, and it’s great for Eggs Benedict. But I find that it’s really no substitute for bacon.” Few things are.
Many carnivores, it seems, remain unwilling to munch on meat that’s been replicated with genetic legerdemain. Me? I say bring it on. How could anyone argue with more bacon?
Pigs are noble creatures, selflessly giving of their delectable flesh — and we need as many of them as we can get.
That’s because bacon is bigger than ever. Suddenly everyone, it seems, is talking about bacon, writing about bacon, craving bacon. Breaking fast with bacon and having some more for lunch. Everyone. Sometimes even vegans.
Search for “bacon” on a social-bookmarking site like del.icio.us and one is presented with a plethora of piggy goodness. Read about how to make bacon chocolate-chip cookies and deep-fried bacon-wrapped bananas. Watch molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal on YouTube making bacon-and-egg ice cream. Peruse bacon flow charts, meant to assist the peckish in deciding what to eat (hint: the answer is never not bacon). Purchase stylized bacon wallets and bacon scarves and bacon bandages and bacon air fresheners. Or learn how to salt and cure your own.
Visiting the pop-culture blog recidivism.org recently, I clicked on installment #017 of Oh, That Heavenly Bacon, the site’s continually updated compendium of cured-meat ephemera. I was greeted with a full-color advertisement for Italian salumeria Negroni, in which a bucolic tableau had been rendered with cured meat: mortadella hills, a babbling brook with whitecaps of marbled prosciutto, the sky streaked with luminous strips of raw, fatty bacon. It looked like . . . paradise.
Meanwhile, the Bacon Show boldly promises “One bacon recipe per day, every day, forever.” And, verily, for three years and counting, its proprietor has not faltered. I look forward to a steady diet of crispy, salt-cured repasts for something approaching perpetuity. (Until, of course, that inevitable cardiac episode — his or mine — puts an end to all the fun. But even that risk may well have been obviated by scientists’ cloning of piglets that are rich in heart-friendly Omega-3 fatty acids.)
Soon after proposing this article — fully aware of the slings and arrows that will volley toward my inbox from the feral PETA crowd — I felt as if I’d plunged down the rabbit hole (or the piglet hole, as it were). Everywhere I turned: more bacon. More rumination, deliberation, and obsession about those humble sticks of crispy meat. Dozens of blogs (Bacontarian, Going Whole Hog, Six Degrees of Bacon). Innumerable chintzy gag gifts. Breathless paeans to the deceptively simple sizzle of America’s most sinful breakfast food.
And next month, right in our own backyard, dozens will gather at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge to cram their maws with the stuff at the bar’s second annual Bacon Eating Contest. What gives? Is this baconian bacchanal a hell-bent rejoinder to the creeping culture of self-righteous health-fascism? Or is it merely the affirmation of the obvious, inherent deliciousness of salt-cured pork? Alder smoked. Applewood smoked. Cob smoked. Hickory smoked. Skillet-fried or George Foreman–ed, microwaved or baked. Bacon is omnipresent. Its fans are legion. Resistance is futile.
Meat the greatest
If the canine is man’s best friend, creatures of the porcine persuasion have long been his favorite meal. Archeologists have surmised that the pig was the first animal domesticated for food, a millennium before sheep and goats — and even long before crops. (Man, apparently, has never liked to eat his vegetables.)
According to James Villas’s The Bacon Cookbook: More than 150 Recipes from Around the World for Everyone's Favorite Food — “the greatest and most beloved food on earth,” he calls it — bacon is one of the oldest meats; the Chinese were aging and salting pork as early as 1500 BC. Well into the 16th century, we learn from cookbook author and about.com columnist Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, the Middle English term bacoun referred to pork in general. The term “derives from the French bako, common Germanic bakkon and Old Teutonic backe, all of which refer to the back.” (Ironically, what Americans call bacon today comes from pork bellies.) She also notes that “there are breeds of pigs particularly grown for bacon, notably the Yorkshire and Tamworth,” and that “70 percent of the bacon in America is consumed at the breakfast table.”