My latest entry in the epic porcine voyage that I'm calling The Bacon List was purchased from the deli counter at Lincolnwood Produce, which is a great alternative to the ultra-lame (and ridiculously expensive) Jewel and Dominick's. It's a great mid-sized grocery store with a really excellent produce section, a huge deli, and a pretty good assortment of dairy and fresh bread products, as well as some very interesting pantry items that lean towards Eastern European and Middle Eastern clienteles. I started out going there just for the really well-priced, fresh, high quality produce, but I find myself gravitating more and more to their other items, including a great bulk foods section, and wonderful ethnic breads like an authentic Armenian lavosh and the highly-touted Italian bread from D'Amato's bakery on Grand, which is delivered daily.
Andy's Deli is a Chicago-based retailer, meat market, and sausage-maker that has been serving primarily the Polish market since 1918. The deli case had this item marked "smoked slab bacon", so it was sliced to my specifications. I instructed the guy to do it on the thick side. I paid $4.99/lb.
I wasn't really sure what to expect from this stuff. I'm not familiar with Polish bacon, so I wasn't sure if it's made in a style that differs from the American product that I'm more familiar with, but I figured I'd give it a go. (Judging by Andy's website, they're not really all that familiar or concerned with the American market either--they list "Pork Lion" as one of their products) Anyway, it certainly looked good in the case, with it's dark, smoky-looking outside and bright pink and white fat streaked interior.
Worlds away from the FreshLock container detailed in my last post, this bacon came in a no-frills plastic deli sack, secured with a computer-printed price label. Which suited me fine. This is about the product, not the package.
I had high hopes. Given the small-scale production, the non-uniform appearance, an expectation of ethnic authenticity, and the strong smoke smell emanating from the pack, I figured I might be onto something good with this stuff.
I was wrong.
Despite the fact that this appears to be an artisanally-produced bacon, made with an authentic dry cure and smoked with real hardwood, it's just lacking. On multiple levels.
I'm going to go ahead and assume some cultural differences here--maybe Poles enjoy a milder, more chewy bacon than us USA'ans have come to expect from a high-quality bacon--so it's not like I can fault this product too much. For all I know, Andy's Deli has made the exact bacon it intended to make.
It does not, however, suit my tastes.
The main fault with this bacon is that it's chewy. Despite cooking it up with the rack-over-a-sheetpan method (I did remember to spray my rack this time, thankyouverymuch), and achieving a crispy-seeming dry finished product, the bacon does not snap and crumble when you bit into it. You have to work on it. Gnaw, even. I don't think I'd be out of line by describing it as jerky-like. Jerky-esque. Not good.
The flavor is just so-so. Not much there there. It's not at all sweet, so I'm guessing the cure didn't include sugar. It's lacking in salt and smoke as well, so the prominent flavor is straightforward pork. Which isn't bad...it's a nice fresh pork flavor with a sweetness to it, even, but bacon, done right, is an ethereal combination of sweet, salt, smoke, and pork. This was a one-dimensional bacon. With the chew of leather.
My guess is that this bacon was not left to cure long enough. That would account for the almost fresh-pork-belly flavor and lack of tenderness. And, again, I'm wondering if that's a conscious choice based on Andy's attempting to appeal to Polish and/or Eastern European tastes.
So this review is a mixed bag. I certainly didn't like this bacon very much and I'm not going to give it high marks, but I'm not going to rip in to it too much, since doing so might reveal my admitted cultural ignorance.
Anyway...on to the rundown:
Designation--Fancy or Grocery Store? Special designation--Ethnic. Purchased in a grocery store (although not a big, mainstream chain store), but apparently produced using fancy artisanal production methods.
Price--How much did I pay per pound for the bacon? $4.99/lb. sliced to order per my specifications.
Uncooked appearance--Color, texture, wet- or dry-ness, mushy or firm, etc... The slices are dry and firm. The shape is irregular and uneven, indicating a belly that has not been compressed or trimmed to achieve a uniform shape. Some slices had a nice mix of lean and fat, others were overly lean. Colors are on the pale side.
How it cooks--Tendency to curl, how much it shrinks, tendency to spatter... Not too much shrinkage. No curling. I should just get rid of this specific criteria, since the way I cook the bacon pretty much gives me a uniform result regardless of the product. Nothing significant to note here.
Cooked appearance--Color, shape, texture. Strangely-shaped slices. Some streaky, some (the straighter ones pictured on the right) very lean with almost no fat at all. Lean meat is a deep, dark red, fat is an orangey-red. Texture is somewhat rubbery or tough-seeming.
How does it taste--Sweetness, saltiness, smokiness, texture (melting, chewy, flabby, spongy), "porkiness". Very chewy with a near-exclusive pork flavor. Bordering on tasting like fresh pork. Lacking in sweet, smoke, and salt. Fat doesn't 'melt' in the mouth at all. I had to chew hard and vigorously to eat this bacon. Not pleasant.
Overall rating--All bacons reviewed will be given an overall rating from 1-10, with 1 being practically inedible (I say "practically" since, you know, it's bacon--how bad can it be?), 5 being a perfectly serviceable bacon for use in cooking or on a sandwich, and 10 being....well, let's be honest; there won't be a 10. Overall rating: 4.0 As I explained above, I'm reluctant to give this bacon a really low number, despite the fact that I didn't really enjoy it. I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt due to the fact that it's produced by a Polish company and, presumably, marketed to a Polish/Eastern European clientele which has, perhaps different tastes and expectations of what bacon should taste like.
It's too bad, because ethnic markets/products can sometimes be a very economical option for high-end products. Since they're often produced locally for a relatively small customer base, you're likely to get a more artisanally-produced product that can arrive at the retailer more quickly and therefore, fresher, than an equivalent mass-produced mega-mart item.
I wanted to like it. I really did. If I'm ever interested in stocking up on pork jerky, this will be my go-to bacon.
But, in the meantime, the quest continues.....