The wonderful world of gourmet craft bacon.
By Michael Ryan Lawrence
When you list the finer things in life, craft beer is usually found near the top—especially for readers of this magazine. Chances are that also on that list is bacon, and for many of the same reasons. However, much like we needed a craft beer revolution to awaken us from the dark slumber of mass produced beer, bacon too has become homogenized, mass produced and in dire need of its own awakening. Thankfully, here in Philly we have Bespoke Bacon to lead us into the pork belly revolution!
The similarities in philosophy between craft brewing and what Bespoke Bacon does is literally right in the name. Bespoke is an English word that means “made to the customer’s specifications” or “made to order instead of mass produced.” It is here that the parallels begin between craft beer and craft bacon. Everything we love about good beer also applies to good bacon; the creative artistry in the recipe, the methods of science in the process, the personality and uniqueness of the product and most importantly, the flavors and aromas that stimulate the senses. It’s the very essence of the word “craft” and why we can’t get enough of the good stuff.
But therein lies the problem, we can’t get enough of the good stuff. When it comes to bacon, Americans have long accepted the mass produced version which is full of additives, sticky residues and pumped of nitrates to speed the curing process and add weight. This is why store bought bacon shrinks so much when cooked and why three guys smoking pork bellies in a Lansdale, Pennsylvania backyard decided they had enough. Those hog lovers are Brian Wolfinger, Bryan Cohen and Kevin Weidamoyer, and in an effort to make bacon they wanted to eat, Bespoke Bacon was born.
Much like brewing, curing meats is an ancient process that is deeply rooted in tradition. By returning to these base methods, Bespoke has revived old-world bacon while adding new-world innovation. Their custom process allows the customer to choose the pork, the pounds, the cure and even the wood that defines their bacon. Being localvores by nature, all of their pork bellies come from Leidy’s Pork, right outside of Philadelphia, and they are always “dry-cured” with freshly grown and locally sourced herbs and spices. Aside from creating custom bacon, Bespoke also has a wide variety of core flavors to choose from. These range from their Classic, Signature, and Big Pepper styles to more exotic varieties such as Bloody Mary, Buffalo, Jalapeño-Cilantro, and Jamaican Jerk. For the daring (or crazy), they even have a Volcano version which is made from the three hottest peppers in the world.
The beauty of Bespoke Bacon is that, much like craft
brewing, they are always evolving and pushing the boundaries of what bacon is and what bacon can become. And if there wasn’t enough connection between them and craft brewing, they recently collaborated with Robert DeMaria, from Prism Brewing Company, to tweak the recipe of Prism’s Insana Stout. Prior to working with Bespoke, Prism was using a soy-based bacon because pork bacon had too high of a fat content which led to poor head retention. So Bespoke worked with DeMaria to produce a bacon with a reduced fat content which not only improved the head retention but also provided a true bacon flavor in the beer. Soy bacon uses liquid smoke to create flavor which technically can be considered an extract. By ditching the soy bacon this also returned Prism to being an all-natural and extract-free brewery. When asked what made him decide to work with Bespoke Bacon DeMaria said, “They’re a local company that makes custom bacon and shares our core beliefs… it was a no-brainer.” Do yourself a favor and check out bespokebacon.com and see what they have to offer.
Whether you are an occasional bacon eater or a pork belly purist, you can be assured that once you get a taste for gourmet craft bacon, you won’t be able to return to the swill of the swine.