What Is Artisanal Bacon? (According To Experts)

Bacon is a beloved food that has been enjoyed for centuries. But have you ever heard of artisanal bacon?

This type of bacon is made by small-scale producers who take great care in crafting each batch by hand. Artisanal bacon is known for its unique flavor, texture, and quality.

In this article, we’ll explore what makes artisanal bacon different from the mass-produced bacon you find at the grocery store. Get ready to learn about the art of bacon-making and discover why artisanal bacon is worth trying.

What Is Artisanal Bacon?

Artisanal bacon is a type of bacon that is made by hand in small batches. Unlike mass-produced bacon, which is often made using brine injection and other shortcuts, artisanal bacon is crafted using traditional methods that have been passed down through generations of skilled butchers.

One of the key differences between artisanal bacon and regular bacon is the way it is cured. Artisanal bacon is typically cured using a mixture of salt, sugar, and spices that are either rubbed onto the meat or dissolved in a marinade. This process can take up to two weeks, compared to just a few hours for mass-produced bacon.

Another difference is the quality of the meat used. Artisanal bacon is often made from heritage breed pork or wild boar, which are raised on small family farms and fed organic, vegetarian diets. This results in meat that is more flavorful and has a better texture than the factory-farmed pork used in most commercial bacon.

The Art Of Bacon-making

Making artisanal bacon is truly an art form. It requires patience, precision, and a deep understanding of the curing process. The first step in making bacon is selecting the right cut of pork belly. A good butcher or farmer will have pork belly that is evenly thick and squared off, with no rind or skin. However, if there is skin on the pork belly, it can be removed and used to make chicharrones, a crispy treat that is perfect for snacking.

Once the pork belly has been selected, it’s time to cure it. This is where the real artistry comes in. A simple salt cure will do the trick, but many artisanal bacon makers prefer to add other flavors to the mix. Some popular ingredients include maple syrup, coffee, rosemary, miso, rock sugar, star anise, brown sugar, and orange peel. The curing process can take up to two weeks, depending on the desired flavor and texture.

After the pork belly has been cured, it’s time to slow roast it in the oven. This step is crucial for achieving the perfect texture and flavor. Once the bacon has been roasted, it can be sliced thick or thin and cooked in a skillet or in the oven until crispy.

One thing to keep in mind when making artisanal bacon is that it’s easy to over-salt the meat. This can happen if too much salt mixture is used in the cure or if the meat is cured for too long. If this happens, soaking the bacon in water for 24 to 36 hours can help remove some of the excess salt.

Small-scale Production And Attention To Detail

Small-scale production and attention to detail are two other important factors that distinguish artisanal bacon from mass-produced bacon. Artisanal bacon is made in small batches, often by a single person or a small team of butchers, who take great care to ensure that each batch is made to the highest standards.

The production process for artisanal bacon is much more hands-on than for mass-produced bacon. The butchers must carefully monitor the curing process, turning the pork belly every few days to ensure that it is evenly coated with the curing mixture. They also carefully monitor the temperature and humidity levels during the smoking process, which can take up to 24 hours.

One of the most important aspects of artisanal bacon production is the use of natural hardwood smoke. Unlike mass-produced bacon, which often uses liquid smoke flavoring, artisanal bacon is smoked using real wood chips or logs. This gives the bacon a rich, smoky flavor that cannot be replicated by artificial flavorings.

Unique Flavor And Texture

One of the standout features of artisanal bacon is its unique flavor and texture. Unlike mass-produced bacon, which can taste one-dimensional and heavily processed, artisanal bacon has a deep, subtle flavor that comes from the curing process and the quality of the meat used.

Many artisanal bacons are smoked over wood chips or other flavorful materials, which adds a rich smokiness to the meat. Additionally, some artisanal bacons are cured with unique ingredients like maple syrup, espresso, or black pepper, which can give them a sweet or spicy kick.

In terms of texture, artisanal bacon is often thicker and chewier than regular bacon. This is because it is made from high-quality pork belly that has been cured and smoked slowly, allowing the meat to retain its natural moisture and flavor. The result is a bacon that is more satisfying to eat and can be used in a wider variety of dishes.

Health Benefits Of Artisanal Bacon

Artisanal bacon, when consumed in moderation, can provide various health benefits. It is a good source of animal protein, which is essential for the body to function properly while maintaining energy levels. It also contains significant amounts of various vitamins and minerals, including thiamin, niacin, vitamin B12, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, pantothenic acid, and iron. In fact, it provides around 65% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of thiamin alone.

Artisanal bacon is also rich in choline, an essential nutrient for proper brain development. Studies show that choline is also useful for preventing and fighting chronic brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, the omega-3 fatty acids present in artisanal bacon make it beneficial for the heart. The choline found in it also helps to prevent various heart disorders such as strokes and heart attacks.

Furthermore, artisanal bacon’s fat content is primarily monounsaturated and contains oleic acid, which is also found in olive oil. It also contains palmitoleic acid, a monounsaturate with valuable antimicrobial properties. About 40% of bacon fat is saturated, which is a level that is relatively stable and unlikely to go rancid under normal storage and cooking conditions. This stability is important since the remaining 10% is in the valuable but unstable form of polyunsaturates.

Finally, artisanal bacon made from pastured pigs comes replete with fat-soluble vitamin D, provided it’s from foraging pigs that romp outdoors in the sun for most of the year. This makes it a great addition to a nutrient-dense diet.

Where To Find And How To Cook Artisanal Bacon

If you’re looking to try artisanal bacon, there are a few options for where to find it. One option is to look for local farmers’ markets or specialty food stores that carry small-batch, handmade products. You can also search online for artisanal bacon producers and have it shipped directly to your door.

Once you have your hands on some artisanal bacon, the cooking process is slightly different than regular bacon. For the best results, it’s recommended to cook artisanal bacon over indirect heat at a low temperature of around 225°F (107.2°C) until the internal temperature reaches 150°F (65.6°C). This slow cooking process allows the flavors to develop and the fat to render properly.

When it comes to choosing wood for smoking, you can use any type you like, but some popular options include hickory, cherry, and applewood. It’s important to use wood from fruit trees (except mango) to avoid bitterness in the final product.

Before cooking, make sure to clean and dry the pork belly thoroughly. If the bacon is not pre-cured, you can make your own mixture of salts, sugar, and spices to rub onto the meat and let it cure in the fridge for 7-10 days. After curing, rinse off any excess salt and seasonings before smoking.

Once the bacon is cooked, let it rest in the fridge for 12 hours before slicing and serving. Artisanal bacon may have a stronger flavor and more texture than regular bacon, so be prepared for a deliciously rich and savory experience.