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December 24, 2011

The accessability of bacon: An Interview with The Gastronomic Gardener

Happy Christmas everyone!

I was trying to think what I could give everyone for Christmas, what would be the best present?... And then, of course, I thought, "Bacon!"  But instead of handing out bags of meat I thought it would be more useful to give everyone some encouragement about 'how to' make your own bacon. Something along the lines of, "Give a guy a pork belly, you'll feed him for breakfast. But teach a guy the know-how, he'll eat well all his life."

Don't think you can do it? Sure you can! You've heard from me how easy it is to make your own food so I thought I'd introduce you to a regular guy who's great at makin' bacon. My friend David over at the Gastronomic Gardener is a regular guy who is making and serving up some tasty home cured meats, including bacon. I asked David for his take on the fine art of charcuterie and he's got some great info to share.

OFG: So, David from The Gastronomic Gardener, you're a regular guy living in the suburbs and you make your own bacon. What gives? Isn't bacon an industrial process? Or don't you need to be on a farm?
Hi OFG, yes, I am a suburbanite, with a full time corporate job, and
I make my own bacon. By make, I mean cure and smoke. Some day I hope to grow my own hogs as you do OFG, but until then, I’ll do what I can to "practice."

Most folks go and pick up bacon at the store, and while there is nothing wrong with that, I find it immensely satisfying to be involved with my food production to the greatest extent that I am able. Just as I take pleasure and pride in the first ripe tomato in the garden, or opening a jar of pickles in the dead of winter from cucumbers I grew and canned, I am glad to take as much responsibility as possible in what I eat or feed my family.

The best friend to make if you want to make your own bacon is your local butcher. They are super helpful and you should see how excited they get when they find out you’re making your own bacon! While I go to a specific butcher shop, most supermarkets will be able to get you pork belly – the prime ingredient for making bacon. You may have to special order it, but they can get it. Other than the pork belly – you’ll need some curing salt - or sodium nitrite, (aka pink salt). Your butcher should have this as well, if not I’ve found it at the outdoor sporting good stores near the jerky and sausage making supplies. The rest of the things are common in the kitchen – large zip-close bags, kosher salt, sugar, garlic, peppercorns. Nothing extraordinary or mystical. It’s surprising to me how accessible making your own bacon really is. You don’t need a smoker but it does add an extra flavor element to the bacon that I really love.
OFG: What experience did you have before you first made your own bacon? And what inspired you?
I like to eat consider myself pretty handy in the kitchen and always enjoy new things, so I suppose I don’t intimidate easily in that regard. However, making you own bacon is so simple. If you can make a box cake mix, you can do this. I’ve been making fresh sausages for a couple years now – bratwurst, merguez, kielbasa and in my search for more information I can across Ruhlman and Polcyn’s book Charcuterie. It’s such a wealth of information, the recipes and how-tos – especially in the beginning of the book make it all very do-able.

OFG: Aside from the logistics, what did you learn about about "making your own food"?
The quality of almost anything you make at home is far superior to the product you can purchase at the big box store. When you are making your own, you know you and your loved ones will be eating it. If you think for a moment the few major food producers have much more than profit on their mind, then I think you are deluding yourself.
And the proof is in the pan. Home cured bacon doesn’t shrink nearly as much as mass produced bacon. And the flavor? There is no comparison!

OFG: What does your family/friends think?
They love it! Being the first one up and starting the coffee and the bacon sizzling in the skillet, they don’t need an alarm clock, they get up pretty quickly! Seriously though, I’ve given the gift of bacon to a few people and even given some away for a small "donation." One guy ate three lbs between Friday and Sunday. When he got back to work on Monday – he said "No matter how much I beg and plead, please don’t bring me any more!" That’s pretty strong testimony! I always tell them how easy it is to make and offer to walk them through it. That offer stands.
OFG: What is your best advice for someone who is hesitant to do this?
First don’t be afraid. Go talk to your local butcher and find the availability and price of skin on pork belly. If it is within your means, pick up some pink salt, and give it a try. You will not be sorry, and if you are like me, you may never buy prepackaged bacon again!

Thanks, David, all great info and wow!  The tutorials you have on your blog are fantastic.  I'm sending a friend of mine right over to check it out.

So, what do you think, folks? Are you ready to jump in with both feet? If you're ready to try making your own bacon-y goodness at home I hope you'll get some confidence, and know how, from David and give it a try. Most of the free world is off work next week, so if you are a bacon lover and are home, why not call up your butcher and ask for a pork belly... then get to makin' bacon at home. Your friends and family will love you for it - its the gift that keeps on giving!

Happy Christmas everyone!