it's a safety issue, really, all that methane and whatnot. one of these days some flame war in a forgotten corner of a dailykos debate thread will strike a spark which will set the whole thing off and --
a tremendous fireball, and the smell of scorched silicon, and it's another ice age and this time it's the arachnids that take over and evolve into the dominant species and develop reality television and then wipe themselves out because they, like us, can't find the damn "OFF" switch.
I do still love bacon. Dearly and completely. Eat less of it because I work more and because my metabolism hit a steel-reinforced concrete wall when I turned thirty, but I still seek out new bacons, and eat them with ludicrously analytical pleasure.
Plus I'm into single-origin chocolate now. And salt. Mmmm, salt.
Is bacon at its peak after more than a year in frozen captivity? Of course not. But such is the short-sighted nature of human love--we cannot allow that which we hold dear to follow its natural course, burn brightly and briefly, and then go the way that we too must someday go, into dark night where we will know no pain, but also, no bacon. By clinging to our bacon past its use-by date, do we somehow strive to draw out our own brief taper to some unnatural extent? Do we love our bacon as we love ourselves--foolishly, short-sightedly, and with that all-too-human refusal to believe in endings as well as beginnings?
Perhaps, but that topic is beyond the scope of this humble blog. Perhaps those who blog about fruits and vegetables--cantaloupes, perhaps, or peaches--would be better suited to handle topics of such gravity, their chosen topics being thus much closer to the salt and soil of the earth.
Oh, yes, salt. That brings me to the
DEEP-FREEZE ARCTIC CAGE MATCH: CAROUSEL FARMS VS. JOHNSON COUNTRY HAMS DRY SUGAR-CURED BACON
And pity the bacon that has to go up against the salty intensity of Johnson Country Ham--like a salt-mine sprung to life, belching sodium fumes and leaving the earth brown and scorched in its wake, this bad-boy bacon leaves the entire rest of the meal parched and panting. And who is the other contender? The humble Carousel Farms, that J.-Alfred-Prufrock of a bacon given a tepid and unenthusiastic review by this very blog.
As Tatsuo Shimabuku, founder of Isshin-ryu Karate, wrote, "A person's unbalance is the same as weight." And as Johnson County lumbered forward like a rabid bull-elephant draped in American-flag bunting, Carousel Farms slipped deftly to the side and let the great beast lumber itself off into a minefield. And in the salty wasteland left behind, Carousel Farms appeared all the sweeter. Dare I call it sultry? Firm and supple, with a buttery friendliness on palate entry and a muted, porcine finish which left you reaching for a second slice. Did I call this bacon a "wallflower"? If so, it must've been because it didn't care for my company that day--was I being boorish, was my breath sour? Because when this bacon wants to get your attention, flashing a hint of smoke and a smooth, fatty mid-palate action, it gets you, and soon the sodium bellowing of the Johnson Country Hams was just a noisy distraction, thrashing around somewhere in the distance with its tough rind and ten-ton pachyderm lack-of-subtlety.
Alas for the empty package of Carousel Farms bacon, now lying limp and un-tenanted on my counter, waiting for the cold embrace of the coffee-ground graveyard beneath the sink.
I met some of them; they are cute and sort of prancy, and you figure if they're covered with mud and shit it's just because they don't have anyplace clean to lie down. Or maybe they like it; to each their own. Actually, that would be rather better for them... at least they wouldn't be running around all day thinking, "Man, I wish I could get all this mud and shit off me."
Problem is, I don't have the strength of character to be a vegetarian. There's no excuse for that out here in California, although it's quite a convenience in Ohio, because man when they give you bacon in Ohio do they give you bacon. Or, at least, I'm speaking for my people here; I was only served bacon by my family. Maybe the people across the road, from whom my uncle borrowed an iron so I could get dressed up in my Sunday best to go to church and be saved, do it different.
I've got to say, the bacon at my uncle's place (which he'd got special because he knew I was coming) made me think that back when I was living in the middle West I didn't take advantage of it properly. Because I didn't go looking for bacon, and if you don't go looking, you'll end up with the same fourth-string supermarket bacon you get out here. Bacon that's been raised in feedlots in Texas by Bush contributors, slaughtered by clumsy machines, had its natural flavors chemically bleached and centrifuged into ozone-depleting exhaust fumes, then injected with salt water and artificial flavor and shipped by barge to a grocery distribution center where it sits under heat lamps until a one-legged warehouse worker with no teeth and gangrene trips over it and it finally gets shipped to the lukewarm grocery store meat tank, where close proximity to boxes of Lunchables giving off radioactive vapors finally denatures the last of its natural proteins and leave it nothing but a flimsy tissue of synthetic fats, sodium, and guar gum. But my Uncle Bob, he knows what he's doing--he went to the smokehouse, and got real bacon made with real smoke really in Ohio. And maybe by Bush contributors as well, but hell, if the bacon is good I'm willing to let political bygones be bygones.
Uncle Bob's Bacon
Thin and light, with a delicate texture, and a smooth, fatty, buttery taste. The smoke and pork tastes really took a back seat to the fat in this one, giving the bacon a melty consistency that made you glad there was enough bacon for ten people cooked up for just my mother and Uncle Bob and me. Mmm, bacon.
Where did he get it? Well, somewhere in or around Washington Courthouse, Ohio. Other than that, you'd have to ask him.
Qualitative ratings: Deliciousness: 7 Did the dog get any? The dog was in California, trying to get Peter to give her chocolate like that one time she had to go to the hospital because she'd eaten a lethal dose out of his backpack when he wasn't looking and was racing around with her little heart about to explode like an overtaxed go-kart engine, but the thing with dogs these days is they only remember that first killer buzz (literally) and then they won't stop begging for a square of Sharffen Berger.
Yes, she was joking, but -still-, it was her idea.
There was the skillet of bacon grease from a particularly well-balanced half-pound of Schaller and Weber's double-smoked, and the popcorn pan beside it.
There was no way out but through at that point.
A tablespoon or so of grease in the pan, in goes the popcorn, and as it heats up... mmm, bacon.
Then it's done, and I pour it into a bowl, a few pieces scattering to the ground, where the dog snaps them up. "Kitty's never going to eat regular popcorn again," Pamela said, referring to the dog, which she has mistaken, once again, for a cat.
But the taste--disappointing. A hint of essence-of-bacon, if you're thinking about it. Which probably means if someone put it in my head I'd be picking up essence of rose-water.
But then, well... I hadn't used all the bacon grease, you see.
Doesn't regular popcorn get butter, a solid-at-room temperature fat that is inedible by itself? Why not give my bacon corn the same amount of bacon fat as normal popcorn gets from butter?
Pick up the pan, drizzle, salt and mix, repeat, just like I do with butter.
Mmm, now we've got bacon. It's like popcorn! But it tastes like bacon! Not particularly strongly of bacon, but distinctly so.
The difference kicks in after a few handsful. It's like some large, restive animal (marmot? badger?) was building a nest of rocks and chicken-wire in my gut. Butter, pound for pound, just doesn't have the sit-you-down-like-a-belly-full-of-rocks heft to it that bacon grease does. But I have to eat a little more, because it tastes like -bacon-.
Now I've really done it. No one else will even taste the stuff. Me, I need to go lie down. The dog gets the rest. I eat an orange, hoping the citric acid will do something to emulsify whatever's happening belowdecks. No go. So now I'm sitting at my desk, hoping a little Maker's Mark will do the trick...
05:23 pm: Carousel Farms (of Iowa) Hickory Smoked Sliced Bacon
Texturally, right up there with the great bacons. No arguments on that one. But, really, something of a wallflower... I mean, texture is the kind of thing you complement when you're looking for something nice to say. "Oh, Hervil? Sure, he's a nice guy. I mean, great texture, really."
No, that's not quite fair. It's better than that. Mellow pork, mild salt, light, well-balanced smokiness... a quiet bacon, but deeply competent. It's impressive, but in a quiet, behind-the-scenes, get-the-work-done-on-time-and-under-budget kind of way. This is a bacon that would never give offense, but because it's so quiet and polite it would disappear without a trace in a sandwich, even a bacon-centric assemblage like a B.L.T.
One could argue that producing a bacon that is simple, subtle, and well-rounded requires more craftmanship (and, dare we say it, strength of character) than a raucous, one-note campfire-on-a-stick kind of bacon.
"I am no Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use, Politic, cautious, and meticulous; Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous -- Almost, at times, the Fool."
01:10 pm: Carlton Farms Dry Cured Sliced Bacon
Even in the world of gourmet bacon, life is not all sunshine. There are grim, gray, hung-over mornings, soggy with the after-effects of intemperance. Bacons (like days) that one wishes simply to get through, to move on to a dimly-envisioned future that one imagines (not giving up hope for the enterprise, despite the pain which lurks behind the temples) must exist. They are days (and bacons) that could shake one's faith, was not the memory of other crystal-clear mornings, rosy with the fading blush of sunrise (or tangy with the smoky saltiness of expertly-cured pork) so strong, so clear, and so powerful that it strengthens you against adversity and leadeth you onward to green pastures.
Carlton Farms Dry Cured bacon is one such hangover of a bacon. It is a quiet-flavored offering, which is not in itself a problem, except that those subtle tastes which must be wooed out of hiding by a patient palate do not reward the patience. There is some quiet smoke, a little nitrate-tang, a gentle under-pinning of pork flavor, but the flavor-note which stands out most is sour, slightly-off, and distinctly out-of-key. It's that slightly-funky taste of cheap, supermarket prosciutto that's hacked carelessly from the unfashionable edge of a neglected ham. It makes you squint for a moment, and try to remember how long the bacon has been in the fridge.
But as we toss the remains back in the freezer, should we not, briefly, give thanks to the sub-par bacon we have just endured? After all, can we truly know joy if we do not also know sorrow? Does not brilliance shine the more brightly in darkness? Perhaps, then, Carlton Farms bacon has a place in our pantry after all, if only to remind us to value the true virtues of superb bacon for the treasures that they are.
03:50 pm: Schaller & Weber Natural Hardwood Double-Smoked Bacon Revisited
When I checked out at the Crossroads Market in Fremont, and the clerk looked at my basket, I felt compelled to say, "I didn't come in here to just buy meat and candy. It just turned out that way." The basket was full of Polish chocolates, German chocolates, Turkish apricot candy, Hungarian cured beef and sausage, and, of course, bacon. More Koloszvári for the family holiday gathering, and another pound of Schaller & Weber for personal use.
When I took the first bite of the Schaller & Weber, I felt a creeping realization that suddenly washed over me like a revelation and left me, for a moment, too awed to speak. And of course, looking back, this should have been obvious--like most great revelations that truly shake the foundations of our world. But what I realized was this: the bacon was -different-. Very different from the last time I'd tasted it. Still brilliant, but not as firm, not so meaty, more fatty, more buttery, with a smoke taste that was still rich, but not so strong. I would never have guessed they were the same bacon.
And then we say, of course. These are not factory produced bacons. These are not molded and shaped with hydraulic presses, injected with chlorine-and-sodium embalming fluid and then centripetally de-flavored so they may be re-flavored with factory-standard Taste(tm). These are different bacons, smoked over different fires, from different animals, and if a family resemblance runs from one to another, like a high cheek-bone or a tendency for the eyebrows to grow together in a great hedge over the nose, well, that is neither the beginning nor the end of the story. And so I look back over my bacon-tasting odyssey, and I realize, though my supply of frozen bacon dwindles, that I am not nearing the end. I have barely begun. I can never hope to capture more than one moment, one tiny point in a vast matrix of chance and skill (and even, perhaps, outright malice), that stretches from the birth of a tiny piglet somewhere, through every porcine vicissitude of the animal's life, through the slaughter, whether graceful or clumsy, and thence through the hands of any number of craftsmen, some conscientious, others indifferent, and so on through the chaos of the smoke, the wild fluctuations of climate while shipping, and so on, right up to my own moment of inattention that may allow it to cook just past perfection in the skillet, and so through the vagaries and inexactness of language to this page, where it flutters like a candle-flame of meaning before a gale of happenstance.
This task is too great for one lifetime. Indeed, it is a task without end, a shadow of the one great task we all face, the task of making meaning of the chaotic world around us. As in that great undertaking, we are bound to fail, and yet compelled to try.
03:28 pm: Gatton Farms Father's Hickory-Smoked Cinnamon Sugar Bacon
You can pull it out of the skillet early, too curious about the extraordinary cinnamon-and-pork aromas coming from the pan to let it cook any longer than necessary, and the tender, thin strips will melt with a rich, salty, slightly-cinnamon-tangy, slightly-sweet, all-bacon richness. The flavors gather in different concentrations in different parts of the strip, so some parts are so rich and full with glorious hickory-smoke flavor that you feel yourself floating up to heaven like so many carbon molecules. Other parts have a fuller cinnamon tang, bodied out with fatty goodness.
For the patient, let a few strips really crisp up, and the sugar almost caramelizes, emphasizing the tang, easing back on the fatty richness. Either way, this is one to shut up and eat.
12:24 pm: Koloszvári Hungarian Brand Smoked Bacon
Koloszvári is going to be hard for you to find, unless you live close to a food store that carries Hungarian meats (it's not from the Grateful Palate, it's from a international food store in Fremont). Luckily, however, you can get the experience of eating Koloszvári with these simple, try-at-home instructions.
First, find a 240 volt outlet in your house (that's the one with three rounded prongs, not two straight prongs and a ground like your normal 110 volt receptacles). There will probably be one in your laundry room. If you find one in your laundry room, probably your dryer is plugged into it. Unplug your dryer, then cut off the power cord at the base of the dryer with a pair of wire cutters. Strip the insulation off the sheared-off end of the power cord, then stick the bare wires into a head (not a clove, a head) of garlic. Hollow out the center of the head of garlic, and fill it with a couple tablespoons of sea salt. If you happen to have a pound of quality pork fat available, apply a liberal coating to the last foot or so of wire. Now grab onto a faucet, or anything metal, so you're good and grounded, then put the head of garlic in your mouth (if you can't fit the whole thing, just get it as far in as it will go), and plug in the cord.
That flat-on-your back, smoke-coming-out-you-ears, ohmigod I didn't know my mouth could feel that way garlic-and-salt sensation is just about what you get from this fantastically flavorful bacon. People who are shy about strong flavors should stay clear of this one. They should probably, in fact, stay out of the room when other people are eating it. But for those who are not afraid to be laid out flat by their bacon, Koloszvári is a gift from the gods. And, at a mere five U.S. Dollars per pound, it's a bargain amongst high-end bacons.
Koloszvári says on the label "ready to eat." I couldn't resist trying it uncooked, envisioning myself on a long cross-country journey, grabbing a hand-sized slab of uncooked bacon out of my saddlebags and tucking in. So I sliced off a small square, and put it in my mouth. Delicious. Chewier than you'd think, for one thing. With the same flavors as it has when it's cooked, but milder because they haven't been concentrated by cooking. I'm thinking with my next pound of this stuff we should make bacon sushi.
A final flavor note--this bacon seems to have been smoked in little pound-or-so mini-slabs. That makes for different, smokier, less garlicky/salty bacon along the outside, with a tougher consistency. It's a nice touch to have the variation in flavor even within a single chunk of bacon. Next time I might try slicing it across the grain, to get a little of the extra-smoky part in every slice, rather than just having two outside slices that taste different from every other slice.