Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Back in December, when I started this epic, far-reaching project that I'm calling The Bacon List, I detailed the difference between two drastically different types of bacon; bacon that's mass-produced, made cheaply, using faster, less expensive processing, and bacon that's made the old-fashioned way. I have been referring to the two styles as "grocery store bacon" and "fancy bacon" throughout subsequent entries I've made to The List, but I've yet to review a fancy or artisanal bacon.
Well, let this be the first. And it's a doozie. Damn, damn, damn is this good bacon.
Broadbent’s B & B Foods is a company based in Kuttawa, Kentucky that's been making country hams and bacon for more than 80 years. The Broadbent family business was, however, sold in 1999 to a couple named Ronny and Beth Drennan who appear to have had the wisdom not to mess with success, as far as the ham- and bacon-making process goes, but who have had enough business acumen to go ahead and ramp up the mail order and promotion. It seems they're smart enough to realize that they've got a world-class product on their hands here, and that this is the internet age where anyone can buy any yummy foodstuff they can dream up with a few clicks of the mouse button. Good thinkin', Drennans.
Locals bemoaned the sale, fearing that their traditional country products would go by the wayside, but the Drennans have allayed any fears, and perhaps even raised the already stellar reputation of Broadbent. Their hams have been named Grand Champion in multiple categories over multiple years at the Kentucky State Fair, and the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) has named Broadbent’s country hams their National Grand Champion Winners four of the last five years.
National foodies have raved about their products as well. James Beard, in a 1974 column, wrote “It was only lately, while in Kentucky, that I become acquainted with these superb hams. There’s a company called Broadbent-Bingham that sells cured and aged country hams. If you visit them, you can also buy extraordinarily good ham hocks, thick ham steaks and hams, all cured the same way. I carried back a cooked ham for Thanksgiving which was much admired by all who tasted it”.
Also, David Rosengarten covered Broadbent in a 2003 edition of his newsletter The Rosengarten Report, saying that he was "completely knocked out" by their bacon.
I first found out about this producer while researching gift ideas for my dad, another bacon aficianado. I was considering buying him a membership to one of those hideously expensive Bacon of the Month Clubs, but my budget didn't allow for spending $315 plus shipping on a friggin' year's worth of bacon, so I was forced to think outside the box.
I found myself perusing the website of the famous Zingerman's Deli (and now global mail-order specialty food retailer) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and their bacon of the month club, which listed all the various producers that were featured each month. I figured I'd just google'em up and see which ones had their own websites, order directly from the source, and create my own bacon sampler, hopefully saving some money by eliminating the middleman.
Broadbent's Original Hickory Smoked was on their list, and so my dad was gifted with a couple pounds of their fine product. (Obviously, I also ordered a few pounds for myself. I'm really bad with Christmas-gift shopping that way.) Is there a finer way to celebrate the birth of Jesus than gifts of cured pork? I think not.
And what can I say? Swoon! This bacon is why God created pigs. And hardwood. And fire. Having eaten and reviewed a bunch of factory-made, mass-produced bacons prior to eating and reviewing this one may have influenced me some, but eating this stuff was like a revelation. We were like "oh, DAMN! This is what it's supposed to taste like!"
How many interesting adjectives and descriptors can I come up with to tell you how freakin' good this bacon is? I'll do my best, but probably still won't do this wonderful product justice. Someone should build a shrine to these fine Kentucky folks and their devilish alchemy of traditional pork curing and smoking. Put'em in the hall of fame. If there's not a hall of fame, build one. Seriously, people. I am not kidding.
Thank you, Broadbent. Thank you Drennans. Thank you Zingerman's, and thank you, tasty piggies, whose bellies were transformed by salt, sugar, and smoke into this fine, fine product.
Ok. Let's do the rundown:
Designation--Fancy or Grocery Store? Fancy. Identified by the manufacturer as "country" bacon. Purchased via mail order from Broadbent's website.
Price--How much did I pay per pound for the bacon? $8.19/lb. sold by the website for $23.90 for four packs of 14 oz. each, which is $6.83/lb. I bought two four-packs and paid $9.50 shipping, which works out to an additional $1.36/lb. for shipping, hence the lofty total. Yikes. Not cheap.
Uncooked appearance--Color, texture, wet- or dry-ness, mushy or firm, etc... Asymmetrical slices indicate that the belly hasn't been pressed or 'tumbled'. The color is a nice bright red streaked with clean white fat. Texture is firm but moist. Visible outer 'crust' appears darker and harder. This is a hallmark of bacon that is truly smoked over burning hardwood. All slices appear to be 'center cut', resulting in a nice uniformity of product--no 'all lean', small, or weirdly-shaped pieces in the pack.
How it cooks--Tendency to curl, how much it shrinks, tendency to spatter... Very little shrinkage. Typical of artisanally-produced bacon that is dry-cured and smoked over a longer period of time, it hardly shrank at all. This is due to the fact that the meat isn't injected with any saline, sugar, or phosphate solutions like the factory-produced stuff, and the long hot smoking pulls all the moisture out during the production process. The end result is more meat on the plate after it's cooked.
Cooked appearance--Color, shape, texture. Dark outer edge where it was exposed to more smoke, appealing curl, good color. Slices are just the right thickness, resulting in a perfect crispy yet chewy bite.
How does it taste--Sweetness, saltiness, smokiness, texture (melting, chewy, flabby, spongy), "porkiness". Amazing.
Smoke flavor for days, but not that fakey processed artificial smoke. Real hardwood smoke flavor that just smacks you in the face. Very restrained on the sweetness and saltiness. Both are really more complimentary to the pork flavor than they are elements all on their own. It's all about the great pork flavor accented by the smoke. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the texture, which is just incredible. The lean parts are crispy and chewy at the same time, and perfectly so. The fat just utterly liquefies when you bite into it, and it feels almost cool on the tongue, kind of like when you step on a cool spot on your floor and you think for a minute that you stepped in water. Do you know what I mean? Am I rambling, here? Seriously, it defies description, despite my fumblingly lame efforts. All I can do is once again resort to saying stuff like "Damn, Damn, Damn!"
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. 9.1. I don't really see how it could get much better from here, but I'm leaving a bit of room at the top and keeping my mind open.
Eating this wonderful bacon and clicking around the company's website has made me very curious about their other products, especially their award-winning hams. I know a little about American country ham, but not as much as I probably should. I'm much more knowledgable about Spanish jamons and Italian prosciuttos than I am about these US-made products that have been made for centuries right here in our own backyard. I'm really considering ordering one up. American country ham would make for a fairly interesting blog entry, I think.