They had two bacons:
- Applegate Farm's Sunday Bacon - a no-nitrite, no-nitrate bacon, costing about $8.50/lb
- Organic Prairie's Uncured Hardwood Smoked Bacon, a no-nitrite, no-nitrate bacon costing about $12.50/lb.
First off - a lot of people are worried about nitrites and nitrates in their meat. So they seek out no-nitrite/no-nitrate products, and pay a premium for it.
However, if their goal is to avoid nitrates and nitrites, consumers need to do more than buy no-nitrate, no-nitrite bacon: many no-nitritte/no-nitrate products use sea salt and celery juice -- because they are natural sources of nitrates and nitrates.
The reason that manufacturers resort to this is simple: if you don't use nitrates/nitrites, the meat turns an unappetizing gray. People are afraid to eat the meat, which kills sales. This trick of using sea salt and celery juice is similar to companies using grape juice concentrate in a product and throwing "no sugar added" on the label.
I don't worry at all about nitrates or nitrites in my food. Almost all Austrian books - like Wagner's "Räuchern, Pökeln, Wursten. Schwein, Rind, Wild, Geflügel" start by explaining that you get more nitrites and nitrates in your tap water and vegetables than you do from cured meat products.
If people want to avoid nitrates and nitrites, you should go for the low-hanging fruit: just eliminate tap water from your diet, and stop eating vegetables. Then you can eat all the cured meat you want.
Here are the three bacons: Applegate, Organic Prairie and then Wooly Pig's bacon:
I put in two slices of the Wooly Pigs bacon because neither piece is very representative of what I sell. The right is too lean and the left has a few spots on it. I figure those spots are from the processing - but I don't know - I pull those ones and eat them at home, so that customers get bacon that looks as ideal as possible. Here is a prettier picture of my bacon.
First off, the top two bacons - the commercial ones - are from young hogs. You can see from how narrow the bellies are. That's because those hogs were probably 5.5 months, while mine was at least a year old. The reason is simple - older hogs produce the best cured products. If you want the best bacon, you need old hogs.
I've had people complain to me that the bacon was too wide. I can't remedy that right now. Historically, today's hogs are slaughtered a lot younger and smaller than they were in the past. In the future, we'll have Mangalitsa bacon, which, when produced from year-old hogs, will look a lot like the bacon made from 6-month old modern hogs. Looking at them side-by-side, I'm shocked at how wide my bacon is - but that's just how it is; bigger hogs have wider bellies.
Another difference is the thickness of the bacon: the commercial bacons are thin-cut. My processor likes to do thick-cut bacon, so mine is thicker. Mine doesn't crisp easily, due to the thickness.
Here's the bacons cooked:
When I tasted the bacons, here's what I noticed:
- Applegate Farms is smoky, but there wasn't much meat flavor. Compared to most bacons, the fat tasted quite good.
- Organic Prairie was less smoky. There was a little more meat flavor. The fat on this tasted better than that from Applegate Farms.
- Wooly Pigs bacon had much stronger meat flavor than either commercial bacon. Older meat just tastes more meaty. It is tougher, but the curing and smoking takes care of that.
If I couldn't eat my own bacon, I'd probably not eat either commercial bacon - because they didn't have enough flavor. I'm not a die-hard carnivore; before I had my own hogs, I wasn't eating much meat. If I had to pick one of the two commercial bacons, I'd go with Organic Prairie, because it tasted a bit better - but I'd wish it had a bit more smoke, like the Applegate Farms.
When I brought home the other two bacons, I was really nervous. I figured that if my bacon didn't taste substantially better than them, I was going to be in big trouble. Having eaten them, I'm not afraid anymore - my bacon clearly has more flavor than theirs. And that's not due to any magic - if you control the breed, feed and raising of the hogs for maximum flavor, that's what you get.