A friend and old co worker recently reminded me that International Bacon Day is coming up (this year it is Sept. 5th - it's always the Saturday before Labor Day), and we have been discussing at length a bacon-filled extravaganza of a day eating our way around San Francisco. I was prompted to write this entry based on my Ultimate Bacon Experience only few were priveleged to.
If I could have a penny, dime, dollar...hell--winning lottery ticket, for how many times over the years I have been asked, "what is your favorite thing to drink/eat", my two answers would be this:
1. Wine (...shocker)
...and I pondered many others, but nothing out ranked #1 or #2 (or really shall I say they are tied).
There are many conversations I have had with my Mom regarding her possible cravings of bacon during her pregnancy with me to explain my "addiction". I just asked her recently about the pork-fat fetish she indulged in, and she exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, Lesley, I would crave pancakes and bacon all of the time. There was a time I ate 14 pieces of bacon (or so) while I was pregnant with you".
Then, she moved on to Honey Baked Ham.
I have a true love of pork as you can see from some of the recipes I have cooked on my blog (Pork chops, pan sauce with applewood smoked bacon, crispy prosciutto), but, most importantly, I have fallen head over heels the amazing creation called bacon. I want to personally thank the person in history (whatever time period or culture) who came up with the idea of curing and smoking what I think is the most amazing part of the pig.
I can imagine my sister, Meag, reading this right now and immediately thinking, "Lesley, do you remember how many times you tried to steal my bacon off my plate growing up?" Oh yes, Meag, I do. The only pieces that I wouldn't eat are the ones she would douse in maple syrup. I still can't get behind that act as I would rather enjoy a beautifully cooked slice all on its own. Hey, at least she learned her own way of defensively protecting her breakfast side dish.
Most individuals, I feel, only really think of bacon as a breakfast item. I, on the other hand, try to incorporate it into as many dishes as I can. Salads, sandwiches, dips, sauces, haven't tried the ice cream route yet - agreeing with Emeril, "pork fat rules", and in my words, bacon is the King.
I am always (ALWAYS) this person: when I am cooking up bacon for family or guests, I ALWAYS make an extra slice for myself. I desperately try to hide from eating in front of guests because, secretly, I am thrilled no one saw me indulging in that extra slice. When I render off cubes of bacon for a sauce or for baked potatoes or a salad topping, it is like a personal test of my will NOT to eat every small morsel before I finish the rest of the dish.
I grew up with Oscar Mayer - Center Cut bacon, but over the years I have definitely "experimented" with other brands; smoked, unsmoked, uncured, thick cut, slab, etc. I try to keep my intake of bacon to a minimum (like my wine intake...), but sometimes, we all just have that craving.
And then, about a year ago, I (and a few other co workers) "worked on" what I feel is the Ultimate Bacon Experience. And we were really working.
I used to work for a company that tests food products for, what they say, "is the independent judging organization dedicated to recognizing and honoring America’s best food and food-related products." That is all I will say on that subject. But, my job was running the test kitchen for all of the products we were testing. And then, word came down that we would be testing....BACON.
And this wasn't just testing one brand. This was about 6-7 brands AND THEN broken down into other categories, like thin cut, thick cut, etc. It was a fantasy for a bacon fanatic come true.
So, I will try to explain this the best before you see the pictures. The testing of these products was done by a panel of 10 chef judges that do not know anything more than they are testing a specific category of a product found in the supermarket. In this category, there may be two products to test (i.e. powdered mac and cheese) or more (think all of the jarred pasta sauces, and then break it down by flavors...). The judges' samples of the products are not named but coded so they have no idea what brands are being tested. They get one sample of each of the products, discuss, and then get a second sample to score the products. That's all you really need to know about the testing process, because this is about bacon, not my old workplace.
So, 10 chefs - each need two slices for their first sample and two slices for their second sample. That's four slices per chef per testing period. Times four by 10 and, yep, that 40 slices of bacon per each brand. Now times that by six brands? Yes, that is 240 slices...of bacon. But wait! We need to make "extra" for the fact that some might get burned (each had to be cooked as similar as possible), and we need to make "extra" for me and my co workers to sample (just for fun). So roughly, that was about 260-270 slices PER TESTING PERIOD.
The above photo was like bacon heaven. Each sheet pan was covered with about 24 slices of bacon, to which I baked at 375F (convection oven) for about the perfect 15-20 minutes. And this represents just one round of judging. This didn't just happen ONE day, but over many days in a course of three weeks.
Had to include a photo of my co worker, Tiffany, helping me out.
It was very interesting to taste different brands against each other and compare. It was fascinating to me as a bacon aficionado to sense different flavors, textures, meat to fat ratio, in each brand, something you really don't think about when you are ordering a side of bacon for breakfast or just shopping for bacon in your local supermarket. The chef judges never really decided on a true winner amongst the brands, but we all had a fantastic time sampling along with them.
Literally, we ate "like pigs". I swore not to count the amount of slices I ingested during these judging sessions. I still get slightly ill thinking about just how much bacon I consumed in a short period of time, and it was for work nonetheless! In one moment, I had never been so sick of bacon in my life, and in the next I was literally smiling from ear to ear. So, in honor of International Bacon Day around the corner, I thought it most appropriate to share some of the most indulgent moments as a bacon lover. Take that, creators of Bacon Explosion.