Is anyone else feeling queasy about the bacon-in-everything thing? I’ll tell you what pushed me over the cured pork edge: the recently opened“meat bar” at Shaka Zulu in London, which serves a range of carnivorous cocktails including Bloody Bacons. These alcoholic fry-ups in a glass feature bacon vodka and crispy smoked bacon. And a skewer of soft cheese on the side.
It’s just the latest in a run of worrying bacon news. The US is braced for its first bacon reality TV show. And Burger King recently launched abacon sundae – vanilla ice cream slathered in fudge sauce and topped with lardons. Oliver Thring might enjoy the latter as an amusing pudding course to a hot dog stuffed crust pizza but for my money bacon mania is spinning out of control.
The internet reeks of pig and pig products and all manner of ludicrous porcine tat is available online. Veggies and yoginis might want to avert their eyes here but bacon-flavoured products just a click away include underpants, lube, cologne, air freshener, lip gloss, beer, brownies, jam, sweets, vodka, cupcakes, chocolate, toothpaste, breath mints, dental floss, soap, diet coke, coffee and even bacon-themed holidays. Inevitably, there is also Camp Bacon - an annual convention dubbed the “Davos of bacon” for hardcore bacon junkies.
Most of this bacon extremism hails from the US where cured pig is not so much a foodstuff as a religion. But there are signs that bacon based battiness is taking hold in the UK. Heston must take some of the blame for kicking it off all those years ago with his bacon and egg ice cream. Nigella also flies the flag for peculiar piggy pairings with her bacon and chocolate brownie recipe which she eulogises as an “act of homage to the unholy union” of chocolate and cured pork.
It now seems that bacon is becoming internet catnip for UK foodies determined to stuff rashers into every blessed thing: cupcakes, cookiesand sandwiches loaded with bacon, banana, peanut butter and maple syrup.
Niamh Shields, author of food blog Eat Like A Girl is a bacon luminary who understands the bacon craze. At her bacon masterclasses she reveals her sought-after candied maple and tamarind bacon fudge recipe, and is also well known for her whisky bacon jam and bacon vodka.
“I love bacon as a seasoning or to perk up a dish. I think we love it because it has just the most amazingly intense flavour,” she says. “It doesn’t hold back, is unashamedly bolshy and completely delicious. When eating bacon, you’re not really thinking about anything else.”
Figures from the British Pig Executive (BPEX) confirm that consumers are becoming more and more enraptured with rashers. We ate over 226,000 tonnes of bacon in the year to April 2012, 4% more than the previous year. The organisation now holds a Bacon Connoisseurs’ week annually to celebrate the best of British.
Lee Moreton, from the Dorset Charcuterie Company, is concerned that the trend for odd bacon pairings is seeing quality cured pork overlooked for cheaper mass-produced stuff. “The use of cheaper and inferior quality bacon as an anonymous seasoning in endless weird and maybe not so wonderful combinations detracts from the fact that good bacon is a luxury that should be celebrated for what it is,” he says. “We look at curing as a way of enhancing an already fine piece of meat and turning into something special. People should take a minute to think about getting the most from these fantastic meaty treats and remember that sometimes, most times, less really is more.”
There’s nothing wrong with bacon being popular, of course; give me a plate of quality British dry-cured bacon, pancakes and syrup for breakfast any day. It’s not so much the bacon pairings that worries me – although some of them are monstrous – but the piling on of any old rasher in any old dish in the blind belief that “everything tastes better with bacon”. It just doesn’t.