Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Bacon List--Father's Original Hickory Smoked

It's been a while since I've added to my now-approaching-formidable list of bacon reviews that I lovingly refer to as The Bacon List. Hence, a new addition to the future archives;

Father's is making country ham, bacon, and other cured porky delicacies out of Bremen, Ky, which sits, along with numerous other country ham producers, in the western tip of Kentucky. This area is centered loosely around Owensboro, which is a largely untapped culinary goldmine, considering the amount of really good barbecue, ham, and bacon being made in the area.

My brother gifted me a pack of four different flavors of this lovely-looking bacon; he's a big fan of the Grateful Palate and I believe he used their site to internet them to me as a birthday gift. Father's makes a huge selection of flavored bacons, stuff I've never seen or heard of before; honey-barbecue bacon, jalapeno bacon, vanilla-bourbon, peach-cinnamon, and a bunch more. For the purposes of consistency and comparing apples-to-apples as much as possible, I'm sticking to their most basic offering in the review.

Designation--Fancy or Grocery Store? Fancy. Dry-cured, long smokehouse smoke, not compressed. Definitely a artisanal-type fancy bacon.

Price--How much did I pay per pound for the bacon? $9.23/lb. I didn't pay for this, but when I went to their website and clicked through as if to buy a quartet of one-pound packs at $27 plus shipping costs, I got this number, which is by far the most expensive bacon I've reviewed to date.

Uncooked appearance--Color, texture, wet- or dry-ness, mushy or firm, etc... Nice looking slices, for the most part, dry yet moist, plump meat, nice and red. Asymmetrical slices, larger on one end than the other, show that the belly wasn't compressed or tumbled prior to processing. This is typical of a true artisan-quality product. The package I had, though, contained quite a few half-slices and what looked like trim. At this price point there should be only perfect center slices.

How it cooks--Tendency to curl, how much it shrinks, tendency to spatter... Cooks fast. I have no idea why, but this bacon cooks much faster than most that I get. It hardly shrinks at all, which is typical of true dry-cured, long smoked bacon.

Cooked appearance--Color, shape, texture. Cooks flat. Almost no curl, a normal amount of grease rendered, beautiful dark red color, perhaps indicative of a bit more nitrites than other producers.

How does it taste--Sweetness, saltiness, smokiness, texture (melting, chewy, flabby, spongy), "porkiness". Strong salty flavor. Salt is the dominant component with this one. There's nice pork flavor and smoke there too, but salt hits you first and keeps hitting. Very little sweetness as well, resulting in a fairly unbalanced overall flavor. It's a good hangover bacon for this reason, but it's not as well-balanced as I like to see from a producer of this level. I had high expectations, so that may have changed my perspective some. This is a very good bacon--the quality of the process is evident and the meat definitely has that great melting/crisp quality that you get from dry-curing, but the finished product, in my opinion, missed the mark due to being too salt-heavy.

One thing that occurred to me is that, given the fact that this company offers all kinds of maple, honey, vanilla, and cinnamon-flavored bacons, perhaps they veer towards the less sweet side on their products that don't overtly feature the sweet sticky stuff. We'll see. Although I don't include flavored bacons in the sweeping-in-scale project that is The Bacon List, my brother's gift did include a few, so I'll report back here at a later date if I find that I like them better than this straight-up hickory smoked stuff.

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. 7.7. This is a good rating, but not where a product of this caliber or price should be at. Father's puts itself up in the seven range simply by doing it the old fashioned way, artisanally curing and smokehouse-smoking their bacons. But the flavor of the finished product isn't as balanced between pork, smoke, salt, and sweet as I would've liked, and the somewhat sloppy packaging, which included some trim and ends, is simply unacceptable for something being sold for ten bucks a pound.

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