For the love of bacon. Part 1
It's the "B" in a BLT sandwich, the star of breakfast buffets, the garnish on a spinach salad, and the "pork" in pork-and-beans. Bacon imparts a smoky flavor to innumerable dishes. This ancient, cured meat now appears in such modern forms as shelf-stable or refrigerated fully cooked strips, bacon can be made from pork, beef and I have heard tell that you can make bacon out of turkey but I don't believe it.
Here at Tierra Verde Farms we call bacon "Meat Candy". There are now top shelf restaurants that make hors d'oeuvres out of thick cut bacon and then candy the outside. I am also seeing recipes for and getting requests for steak cut bacon, That would be bacon in 1" thick slices that serve as the main course in a meal. Bacon can be the driver or the seasoning on any meal. A very flexible and tasty food.
History of Bacon
Bacon has an ancient history. The domestication of "pigs" (immature hogs) for food dates back to about 7000 B.C. in the Middle East. Some historians say that bacon made from hogs was a favorite of the early Romans and Greeks. About 500 years ago, bacon or bacoun (a Middle English term) referred to all pork. The term derived from bako (French), bakkon (Germanic), and backe (Old Teutonic) that refer to the "back" of the hog.
European peasants in the 1500's couldn't afford to buy pork often. It was a sign of affluence if a man could "bring home the bacon." They would cut off some for guests and sit around "chewing the fat," now a colloquial term for "having a discussion." The term "bringing home the bacon" now means "earning a living" or "being successful."
Bacon is made in many countries of the world. In Germany, it is called speck; Netherlands, spek; France, lard or bacon; Italy, pancetta; and Spain, tocino or tocineta. It can be made from several different animal species including pork, turkey, and beef. Bacon can also be made from various parts of an animal; thus, its appearance can vary.
What is bacon?
The term "bacon" is used to describe the cured belly of a swine (hog) carcass. If meat from other portions of the carcass is used, the product name must identify the portions where the bacon comes from, e.g., "Pork Shoulder Bacon." Bacon is generally produced from young animals (6 to 7 months old) that weigh between 175 to 240 pounds.
Pork bacon without any other descriptors is raw (uncooked) and must be cooked before eating. Most bacon sold in the United States is "streaky" bacon, long narrow slices cut crosswise from the hog belly that contain veins of pink meat within white fat.
In addition to "streaky" bacon, other U.S. favorites are American-style Canadian bacon (round slices of pink meat from the loin), turkey bacon made from light and dark turkey meat, and beef bacon is typically prepared from the plate of the beef.
How is bacon made?
Several steps are involved in producing sliced bacon. First each pork belly is skinned and any ragged edges trimmed. After curing with salt and nitrite (more of nitrates in future installment), the pork bellies are heat processed. Mass-produced bacon is heat processed in large convection ovens. It is much faster to mass produce bacon using a convection oven (as little as 6 hours) than by traditional smoking (many days).
Bacon receives its smoke flavor from natural smoke obtained by smoldering wood chips or by spraying the bacon with a liquid smoke extract.
After heat processing and smoking, the bacon must be chilled to below 40 °F before it is sliced. The majority of bacon is sliced before packaging. Because of the added salt and nitrite, bacon is far less perishable than other raw meat products. Even so, the chilling is done quickly to prevent bacterial growth and promote its shelf-life.
At Tierra Verde Farms our bacons are hickory wood smoked for 10-12 hours and will reach a minimum internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. So they are actually fully cooked(pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145-160 degrees depending on cut to be considered fully cooked) but will be labeled as not fully cooked because they are not shelf stable (shelf stable means they can keep at a room temperature without bacterial growth). They will last a long time in your refrigerator just not on a shelf.
Next week we will discuss the different cures used in making bacon and the impact that has on the label.