Bacon. It is a beautiful thing. It is crispy, crunchy, greasy, and goes great with everything. I do mean everything. Check the internet for bacon cocktails and bacon wreaths (they are very much real).
A work of art, bacon has been a staple in the American diet since the conception of this nation. George Washington kept his own free-range pigs on his Mount Vernon farm, turning them into (among other things) delicious bacon. The historic estate even keeps pigs today for guests to meet and greet, not that these pigs are really amazing tour guides, but this is getting off-topic.
This permeation of pork remains today (cite aforementioned bacon wreath). It can be seen in internet creations and the emergence of Baconland at Superfly music festivals, Bonnaroo and Outside Lands. As Extra Crispy writer Monica Burton commented in September 2016 on her interview with a co-founder of the pop-up, “festival goers who stop by BaconLand can chow down on bacon with a side of bacon topped with bacon.”
Bacon in all its forms and fashions has taken on an cultural addiction in this modern age of detox diets and vegan cleansing. Personally, this writer could never live without the stuff, but that statement comes with a figurative asterisk. While bacon is plentiful, the supermarket availability is vastly different from the North Carolinian tradition of quality bacon because this state is one the world leaders in hog raising.
No surprise when learnnc.org reports, “As of the most recent Agricultural Census, in 2002, North Carolina ranks as the second-largest hog farming state in the country, after Iowa.” It is a fact that has not changed. North Carolina in the Global Economy stated, “In 2012, the industry employed nearly 13,000 people in North Carolina across all stages of the value chain.”
This exists at a national level with the major corporation Smithfield Foods doing a large portion of its operations out of Kinston, North Carolina. Who knew that your grocery store of choice serves you bacon off those refrigerated shelves that more than likely came from your own friendly neighborhood hog farm?
However, let’s be honest, most of that bacon does by any means hold the cultural integrity of truly good bacon. The search has to go a bit further than the grocery store aisles.
Take for instance, Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw, North Carolina. A traditional whole hog butchery, the business works alongside Cane Creek Farm located in the same little town. Once featured on Netflix special Cooked, the owners referred to their pigs being raised having “one bad day”. The pigs roam large spaces, eat well, and are even given names.
It is a real life of luxury, one might say… a hog heaven.
This love and care echoes in the flavor of the meat, making every calorie a worthwhile experience. At the same time, one cannot forget to mention the careful dedication of smoking and brining seen at all the very best hog companies, ensuring a prime pork product.
An anecdote moment: I recently over-roasted some bacon from a specialty company and it made the whole house smell like a campfire from all the smokiness embedded into the bacon strips. It was delicious and ridiculous.
The co-founder of BaconLand Tiffany Dorman echoed the same conviction rooted in the food spot’s choice of ingredients, In her interview with Extra Crispy, she commented, “We were looking for happy pigs because we think that happy pigs make good bacon.” If we all bothered to do a side-by-side taste test of bacon, I bet we really could taste the happiness.
It is the same happiness I believe David Chang, celebrity chef and main reason we also love ramen so much right now, when he discovered the magic of bacon and its powers on his momofuku ramen.
Chang commented in his cookbook Momofuku that pork belly bacon, particularly from Benton’s (just over the Carolina border in East Tennessee), was the only appropriate substitute for a traditional accompaniment seen in true ramen unable to be sourced here in the United States. The pork added its own unique dimension to the flavor profile of the culinary concoction, ultimately illuminating how a piece of pig was perfect solution yet again.
There are few things it seems bacon is unable to improve. Bacon moves across cultural lines and blurs divides in a way certain newly-elected presidents do not. It is a unifier that does not know bias when it takes your tastebuds on a journey of euphoria within each bite.
A business catalyst as much as it is a bite of goodness, one could say bacon is a job creator and employer of Americans. How very patriotic of pork to do such a thing.
In these uncertain times, I know at the very least I can rely on bacon. I might have ninety-nine problems, but pig is not one. I can pair it with scrambled eggs or scatter it over my pecan sticky buns and know that the best of pork will make my tastebuds sing.
I can close my eyes and remember the sun will come out tomorrow with more breakfast to eat. I can burn the calories stressing out over my ninety-nine other problems, and pretend they do not exist as I make my home smell like a smokehouse in a matter of minutes cooking up a little piece of North Carolina tradition.