I was out in Ann Arbor in October for a good friend’s wedding, and with all of the weekend’s events, we actually didn’t make it to Zingerman’s Deli. We tried. I know, I know, not hard enough. I’ve been before, so I was itching for a sandwich (and maybe some mustard and bacon to take home), but it’s okay, we’ll be back. So imagine my surprise (and delight) when a package arrived later that week for my birthday from Zingerman’s Mail Order! Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten a package from them (I hadn’t), but good things come wrapped in that label, that much I know. In that box was a book, Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon, AND a package of Ozark Trails Arkansas Peppered Bacon. Thanks, Chandler!
Now, the bacon is long gone, and I’d highly recommend trying it; either order through Zingerman’s, or you can get it online here. Slightly sweet, with plenty of pepper. It’s great with eggs, which is how we had it. But I think it’d also be terrific as part of a Southern version of pasta carbonara.
The book, Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon by Ari Weinzweig (cofounder of Zingerman’s), provides a detailed history of bacon making across multiple centuries and continents. It focuses primarily on American smoked (streaky) bacon, but it also highlights several international varieties, from Hungarian and Canadian to British and Irish bacons and hams. Weinzweig highlights the work of a few small bacon producers here in the States – his favorites – and he describes their flavor profiles as if he’s reviewing small batch bourbons. This is a strength of the book. There’s a real appreciation here of the time and effort that goes into what are truly small-scale farmers and craftsmen, people who are turning out delicious, old-school pork products. The immediate result of this is that I’d love to place an order for 6 or 7 pounds of different varieties of bacon and ham, packages of Broadbent, Neuske’s, Benton’s, Arkansas Peppered, Edwards, etc, just to try them. Or maybe I should put a Bacon-of-the-Month Club request on my Christmas list (which isn’t a bad idea at all). There are a number of recipes at the end of the book. These represent a number of old family and regional American favorites that go way back in time, along with some modern takes on those dishes. It’s an very enjoyable and informative read, certainly one for the bacon lover in your life, or for you actually, if you are the bacon lover in your life.
My only critique, which isn’t so much a problem with the book as much as a recognition of an omission, is that while Weinzweig highlights the long family traditions of many of these producers (and he does this with tremendous respect and admiration), he doesn’t explain or suggest that you could do this at home. I wish this had been part of the recipe section. Give the power back to the people, Ari! As Charcutepalooza participants know well, we can make true small batch bacon and pancetta, just like our grandparents (or at least someone’s grandparents) made. I’m happy to have picked up a book recommendation through the reading of this book, however. Maynard Davies’ Adventures of a Bacon Curer is featured prominently in Weinzweig’s narrative, and although it might be easier to find in the UK, you can purchase it on the Zingerman’s website. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of this to read.
Ari mentions that he’s already writing a sequel to The Guide, so I think it’d be great if home curing were a part of the next volume!