What is bacon?
Bacon comes from the loin and belly of a pig – and this is either cured in brine, or dry-cured using salt. In the days long before you found a fridge in every kitchen, the curing process was designed as a way of preserving meat throughout the winter.
The pigs would fatten up during the summer and autumn – enjoying roots, apples, household scraps and anything else which appealed to the piggy palate. According to folklore, the Gloucester Old Spot came by its well-known markings while snuffling away on windfall apples. Legend dictates that the Gloucester Old Spot was bruised by a falling apple one autumnal morning, and so came by those distinctive markings.
As autumn wore on, the plump pigs would soon find that food became more scarce as the cooler weather kicked in. At this point the pig would be slaughtered and divided up as follows:
Firstly the blood would be collected and used in black puddings
The hind legs would be cured to produce ham: either a Dry cure Yorkshire ham, or a brine cure Wiltshire ham.
The middle (loin and belly) would be salted down on a stone slab in the cellar under salt or salt petre (potassium nitrate). Salt petre is hard to come by these days as it is commonly used in bomb making.
All the trim would be made into delicious sausages.
After 2 to 4 weeks of curing, the meat would be hung to dry and mature. My father grew up on a farm during World War II and remembers hanging their meat in a cobwebby barn as the busy spiders ensured that the flies were kept well away from the precious meat! Henrik Blam, a German Prisoner of War stayed on the farm with my father and grandparents – he was a butcher and shared his expertise with my family throughout his time there. Dad still remembers Henrik receiving food parcels from his sister in America. My grandfather gave him cigarettes and fed him well – and in return Henrik worked hard on the farm.
Meat cured in this traditional way would keep for months and months and would see families through the tough winter. The curing process is used to impart flavour, as well as a preserving technique and the traditional method produces a much saltier tasting bacon than our palates are used to today. Nowadays we enjoy a much lighter cure, which doesn’t taste as salty and nor does it keep as long – although now that most homes are blessed with a fridge this is not such a problem. The curing process is not actually necessary for modern-day bacons, however we continue to cure it as we like to use it as a means of adding flavour.
Goldmedal cry cured bacon
Double smoked streaky
Barden Smokey – back bacon cured in Ilkley beer with Molasses
Somerset bacon – cured in cider with brown sugar
Yorkshire Black – dry cured, finished with black treacle
Farmers Bacon – dry cure, full middle roll with its rind on and an old fashioned flavour. More like the bacon my Dad grew up with!
The smell of sizzling bacon is well renowned for tempting vegetarians into enjoying meat again.
Did you know?
Did you know that a pig born, raised and slaughtered abroad (e.g. Denmark, Holland) can be brought into Britain and cured. It can then be badged up as British Bacon.
At Lishmans we ONLY use locally-reared pork for our bacon. We truly believe that Yorkshire pigs produce the best tasting bacon.
If you’d like to know more about curing and the wonderful Yorkshire pig, join on our next Charcuterie course and get to grips with all the techniques, flavours and processes involved.
This week (21st-27th March 2011) is Bacon Conoisseurs’ Week, where those of us that are proud about the bacon that we are producing, like to make a noise about it! All this week we have some special varieties of bacon on offer, alongside the bacon that you normally see in our cabinet. All of our bacon is cured on site, by hand, with those that are smoked done in our own smoke house. This means we know exactly how good the bacon is, and can guarantee the quality for everyone!
Curing meat is a historical process, previously done for necessity rather than flavour as it is today. In the past (as recent as the war years) many people kept their own pigs for food, and slaughtered and butchered them themselves. This was done in the Autumn, when the pig was nice and fat from the summer, and there was not much food left for it to eat. Because one pig can provide so much meat, it was necessary to preserve much of it in order to last the family through the winter. This is where curing comes in. The addition of salts, nitrates and nitrites to the meat kills bacteria and enables it to last for a much longer time than it would do as a fresh product. So you would cure the loin into bacon, and the leg into a ham and hang it in the barn surrounded by cobwebs so the flies couldn’t get to it.
Dry curing is the best way to produce bacon, avoiding all the water that you can find in injected supermarket varieties, but as long as you buy your bacon from your local butcher, brined bacons are also good (unlike the supermarkets, butchers value the product too much to inject brine up to beyond more than 10-15% of the weight, much of which comes out during the cover brining and hanging process anyway).
So, what are our special varieties? This week we have Gloucester Bacon, which has been cured in cider to give it a sweet finish; a Farmers’ middle bacon, using the loin and belly of pork, cured to be slightly saltier than modern bacons-it is a proper old fashioned bacon; our Barden Smokey bacon, which has been cured in beer and molasses, and then double smoked in our smokehouse to give a nice strong flavour; and our Olde York Streaky Bacon, which is cured in an old fashioned way, so is slightly more salty, and full of fantastic flavour.
We like to give people a taste of what real bacon should taste like, especially those who have been buying their bacon from the supermarkets, where many are just so pumped with water that you don’t get the taste experience. In fact, we are so keen that you come and buy our bacon, that we are offering FREE Black Pudding and Sausages when you buy some of our limited edition flavours. Why not come into the shop and try some for yourself?
Throughout last year, I have been hosting Master Butchery Courses, with more coming during 2011, in order to pass on the fascinating subjects that I deal with every day to the general public. This week we held a Charcuterie Master Class, where the pupils were taken through the world of pork butchery, starting with the whole side of pork, and taking it to its resultant products-sausages, home-cured dry cure bacon, and cooked pate to name just a few! The humble pig is a wealthy resource, that has always been valued, with a use being found for every last scrap. Sadly this happens all too little these days, so I like to show just how much it is possible to get out of one of these creatures.
For this most recent course I had 7 pupils-a perfect class size (the maximum we have in any one class is 8-this means I can help everyone individually). Once everyone had arrived and settled in, we started discussing the pig, aided by the whole side of pork (complete with head) hanging by the block-the perfect demonstration tool!!
We went on to make our porky products-sausages from the belly and shoulder (it is essential to have the correct fat to lean ratio in sausages, and these cuts are naturally perfect!), pate from the pig’s liver, and bacon from the loin. In this hands on section of the class everyone gets to trim their own bacon, and make their sausages from scratch.
Once all the hard work was over with, and the pates cooked and cooling, we settled in with a glass of wine (or two…) to eat some delicious pork (roasted pig champ-the entire cheek, pork scratchings, spare ribs, and of course, freshly made sausages) and watch the sun set over the idyllic surroundings of Bolton Abbey, where the classes take place.