Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living
The quest to understand how great bacon is made takes me around the world and through epic adventures. I tell the story by changing the setting from the 2000s to the late 1800s when much of the technology behind bacon curing was unraveled. I weave into the mix beautiful stories of Cape Town and use mostly my family as the other characters besides me and Oscar and Uncle Jeppe from Denmark, a good friend and someone to whom I owe much gratitude! A man who knows bacon! Most other characters have a real basis in history and I describe actual events and personal experiences set in a different historical context.The cast I use to mould the story into is letters I wrote home during my travels.
The Best Bacon on Earth
Cape Town, October 1960
The kids visited Minette and me last December. Is it almost a year ago? Where did the time go! Politics in our beautiful country did not turn out as I would have liked, but it did happen exactly as I predicted! I see us steering the course of conflict as I saw it all these years ago while riding transport. Still, I continue to learn about life and had many years where I could put everything I learned about bacon to good use.
From Daily News New York, 7 October 1960.The country voted for independence from Britain! It breaks my heart because it was done for all the wrong reasons! I am in full support of independence from Britain, but not for the reason that the referendum was fought over. It ended up as a fight between the white English and Afrikaans speaking people which was merely a rehash of the Anglo-Boer war, contrary to the efforts of Smuts and Botha to unite the groups after the war.
Even in this, there is a lesson. It would have been far better if the discussion included the treatment of the non-white population of the country and was focussed on doing what is right and humane. All South Africans should have been allowed a say in their future as equals. The end result will be untold hardship for many millions of people.
Still, there is an important lesson for me. No matter our circumstances, we can find in ourselves and in things around us reasons to be thankful. This is a tremendous human ability. Amidst the greatest injustice, we can hope! When all hope is lost, we can persevere, and we can hope, against hope! The strange thing that I learned over my life is that this kind of hope never disappoints! This too is part of the art of living!
When I left Cape Town for the first time as a young man many years ago, I set out with a single-minded objective to learn the mechanisms underlying the art of curing. We desired to create the best bacon on earth. Did I achieve this? I would like to think that for a time, just before I left Woody’s, that we did just that. We created amazing bacon. Now Koos and Duncan have the company and are facing new challenges. They went through a dip, but from what I can see on the shelves, the quality is returning to the brand. It makes me incredibly proud of what they have achieved since Oscar, Will, James, Roy, Stanford, Adrian, myself and so many others left.I keep on learning! That making the best bacon on earth, consistently, year in and year out is a very difficult thing and an art in itself.
Many great bacon companies exist around the world. There are three examples of companies that I got to know very well who manage to achieve amazing quality bacon. Two of the companies have been doing it now for over 100 years! I salute them both by concluding the most amazing journey imaginable by focussing not on what Oscar and I manage to achieve, but on others. Others can judge our success or failure in this regard. Three companies who also learned how to make the best bacon on earth standout! The last few chapters deal with them.
Below are photos of some of the best bacon produced on earth by a Master Butcher from Germany whom I have the honour to work with. The best bacon on earth is being created. No compromise! Just quality! Some are cooked fully and some not, depending on where it is made and for what market. The pale bacon is cooked.These are all created in large, high throughput factories in Europe.
Bacon & the Art of Living focuses mostly on commercial bacon. There is an entirely different discipline around dry cured, artisan bacon. This is the subject of Chapter 02: Dry Cured Bacon. My mentor here is an Englishman living in Canada, Robert Goodrich.
The photos below are not all “bacon” but it showcases some of the work of the master!
To prove my point about Robert’s bacon, here are some other examples of his work.
Shropshire Mild Cure bacon
Wiltshire short black bacon
Traditional dry cured Irish Shortback bacon
Stuart Wraith – Short bacon from a supermarket pork loin
Chris Malek‘s Maple Bacon
Vladimir Medvedev‘s Ayrshire Middle Bacon from Ukrainian pigs
Vladimir’s recipe is given as:
– Nitrite salt – 2.2%
– Brown sugar – 1%
– White vinegar (100 ml) and spice (Black pepper, several peas of juniper, bay leaves)
People say that real bacon from Ayrshire should be marinated in a liquid with vinegar. I did not do this.
– 4 weeks in a vacuum with salt, wine, vinegar and spices.
– Rinse, dry and tie bacon into a roll.
– Smoking – 8 hours.
– 4 weeks of maturation in the chamber at + 10С and humidity 80%
The white vinegar was a surprise!
There are two companies that I choose to hone in on, in particular. They both have very close ties to South Africa.