Making the best bacon possible means finding the best ingredients possible. When we set out to make Hinckley's Fancy Bacon, we asked ourselves two important questions:
"Where do we find the best pork possible?"
"What other ingredients can we find locally that will allow it to shine?"
If being a chef has taught me anything, it is that you are only as good as your ingredients. So, we wanted the pig to do most of the work. Finding these pigs isn't an easy task. It's not pork that you typically find in the local grocery market or big box store. It's the pork that chefs use when they want to win awards.
It was important to us to visit the farms and talk with the farmers about their practices. We wanted to know what they animals were eating. Did they have plenty of room to run freely, root around in the soil, take mud baths? As Joel Salatin might say, "Did they have an opportunity to express their pigness?". We settled on a few farms that offered up all the right answers.
Once we decided on where our pigs were coming from we started looking at ways we could make the product stand out. When we think of the flavors associated with bacon, we think SWEET, SALTY and SMOKY. So we wanted to give thought to each on of those components. They each had to stand out in their own right and not lean on each other for support. They had to bring out the taste of the pork without being so strong as to mask it. We settled on local wildflower honey, Florida cane sugar, Celtic raw sea salt, and apple wood smoke.
Honey bees are facing an uphill struggle at the moment. Monocrop farming practices, rampant pesticide usage, and a myriad of other struggles have inflicted havoc on bee populations. So we wanted to find a way that we could lend the honey bee a helping hand.
That help came in the form of rescue and relocation. We've assisted in safely removing and relocating bee hives that would have been sprayed. Sometimes these hives are close to schools or restaurants and the owners want an alternative to pesticide. We suit up and help some beekeeper friends remove the hives and relocate them to a safer area. We've got about nine working hives now that we are able to sustainably extract honey from.
The flavor of this honey changes seasonally as different flowers come into bloom. We often opt for the "baker's grade" honey at the bottom of the hive rather than the clear 'A-grade' honey off the top. The baker's grade honey is darker with more hints of molasses. We like to use it because it is difficult for the beekeepers to sell, but it also imparts a deep, rich flavor to the bacon.
We supplement this honey with Florida cane sugar, especially when the honey is lighter. There are only four ingredients that go into our bacon cure: pork belly, sea salt, cane sugar, and honey. The bacon gets cured under refrigeration for 7-10 days depending on the thickness of the pork bellies. We also add sodium nitrite to the cure which performs a few different tasks. It help to cure the bacon and retard any spoilage. It brings out a bright pink color in cooked bacon rather than a dull gray. But most importantly, it prevents botulism while we smoke our bacon at low temp over a long time. You'll find a lot of "naturally cured bacon" on the market that uses celery salt as a curing agent rather than sodium nitrite. Don't buy the hype. Sodium nitrite naturally occurs in celery, spinach, root veggies, and a wide variety of other fruits and vegetables. Scientifically speaking, sodium nitrite found in celery is no different than sodium nitrite when chemically isolated. However, the amount of sodium nitrite found in fruits and vegetables can vary widely based on the soil conditions that the vegetables are grown in. When we add a chemically isolated sodium nitrite, we are able to add the absolute minimum amount to keep your bacon safe from dangerous bacteria that thrive in anaerobic environments.
Admittedly, we didn't give much thought to salt. That is, until we met the folks at Celtic. For me, there have always been two kinds of salt in the kitchen: Kosher salt and finishing salt. Kosher was the all purpose salt that you seasoned everything with while it was cooking. Finishing salt (fleur de sel) was what you put on your food at the last minute to give the dish pop and create explosions of flavor. I never paid attention beyond that, which is a rookie move considering it is the one ingredient that is on virtually every dish I ever served.
I didn't realize how processed most salt is. I didn't know there were chemicals added to make it white, chemicals that made it pour better chemicals that took away the off-putting tastes of other chemicals. Processed salt tastes metallic. You might not notice that when you're dissolving it in a five gallon pot of chicken soup. But if you line up a dozen or so salts and just taste them by themselves, Celtic is the one that tastes clean, like the sea. It tastes that way because its processed in an age-old tradition and there's not a bunch of stuff added to it. It stands out among it's peers. So it earned a spot on our pigs, who also stand out among their peers.
The final ingredient for us is the smoke. But it was more than just selecting the wood chunks to impart a certain flavor. It was finding the right smoker. Something that would deliver consistent results and do justice to all these other ingredients. We settled on a Cookshack SM160 smoker with chunks of apple wood. The apple wood lends a mild and sweet flavor to the meat. Sam Sifton, Food Editor at The New York Times says it is " - amazingly flavorful, deeply smoky, with tastes from the American south and from France - ". We like the Cookshack because we can dial in all of the variables electronically, like how long we want to smoke or cook, the temperatures that we want to smoke and cook at, etc.). It's almost like cheating.
After our bacon is done curing under refrigeration, we rinse it off and allow it to air dry in the cooler overnight. The following morning we hot smoke it at 180F for 3-4 hours. The Cookshack delivers a gentle smoke throughout the whole process.
We always tell people to cook our bacon in the oven around 300F. If you try to cook it in a skillet, often the sugars will caramelize and burn before the meat is fully cooked. You can find Hinckley's Fancy Bacon in several of our boxes, or you can get it by the slab.
Thanks for following along and taking interest in where your food comes from. Feel free to use Coupon Code: BACONLOVE on any of our boxes and get a free pound of this delicious bacon added to your order.