Bacon Curing Systems: From antiquity till now. Eben van Tonder 18 June 2021
In the development of bacon curing technology, four iconic curing methods stand between the old dry-cured system and the modern system of the direct addition of nitrites to curing brines and the latest development which is Grid bacon. In my book on the history of bacon curing technology, Bacon & the Art of Living, the following chapters are dedicated to these different systems of curing. In my book, I presented the story in narrative form. This style may be annoying to some but it proved to a very useful investigative technique as it forced me to think through every process in the 1st person and allowed me to see relationships between seemingly unconnected bits of technology in a completely new and holistic way. By, as it were, “living in the moment,” I gained insights I would never have seen if I simply reported the features of each system separately.
Bacon by Robert Goodrich. A man who inspires me more than he can imagine!
The Progression of Curing Systems
Here are different chapters that deal with the various stages in the progression of curing systems.
– Dry Cured Bacon
The bacon curing system existed for hundreds of years and included only dry ingredients and later dry ingredients with wet brine added.
– The Empress of Russia’s Brine
During the time of Catherine the Great of Russia, salt was heavily taxed. She had a lively interest in the latest developments in food technology and the excessive cost of salt was a major concern for her. It was under her rule that she or someone in her court suggested that instead of discarding old used brine, the brine should be boiled, impurities removed, and it should be used repeatedly. Her brine, called the Empress of Russia’s Brine contained salt, sugar and saltpetre. Bacterial reduction of saltpetre (nitrates) to nitrites in the old brine would have caused the curing of subsequent batches to be sped up considerably. I have no doubt that this led directly to the discovery of William Oake that it was not necessary to boil the brine between batches and all that was required was to replenish the salt, sugar and nitrates (saltpetre) as was prescribed by Catherine the Greats brine.
Westphalia hams were famous for their use of the Empress of Russia’s brine from a time before it was introduced in Ireland and the cold smoking process which was unlike anything being done at the time when “chimney smoking” was the order of the day.
– Mild Cured Bacon
Invented by William Oake in Northern Ireland some time before 1837 and a key concept namely the re-use of the old brine was a progression of the Russian brine of Catherine.
– Sweet Cured Bacon
Invented by Harris in Calne, early in the 1840s. He did not re-use the old brine but a combination of smokehouse development, the inclusion of brine soaking in the curing process and the injection of meat allowed them to reduce the salt levels, yielding a “sweeter”, less salty brine.
– Pale Dried Bacon and Wiltshire Curing or Tank Cured Bacon
Pale dried bacon was invented under John Harris in Calne in the 1890s. It was drying the bacon without smoking them. Wiltshire bacon curing or Tank curing was introduced in Calne in the closing years of the 1800s or early 1900s.
Wiltshire Cured and Ice Cured Bacon
Before the Wiltshire cure was firmly established, the Harris operation launched Ice Cured bacon which incorporates refrigeration technology into meat curing.
– Auto Cured-, Rapid Cured- and Tank Cured Bacon
Auto curing was invented by William Harwood Oake, the son of William Oake from Limerick in Ireland who invented mild curing. William Harwood Oake brought mild curing to England when he opened a curing operation with two partners in Gillingham, Dorset. He invented auto curing which is a progression on Rapid Cure invented by Robert Davison, an Englishman working in America.
– The Vecht’s Curing Method and Mild Curing by Henry Denny
Henry Denny from Ireland invented a mechanical method of singeing pork and used refrigeration to achieve less salty bacon. His process was effectively copied by the Dutch Orthodox Jewish master cure, Aron Vecht who applied his curing method in New Zealand and Australia.
– The Direct addition of Nitrite
Ladislav NACHMÜLLNER invented the first curing brine legally sold containing sodium nitrites in 1915 in Prague. The system was made popular around the globe by the Griffiths Laboratories. The direct addition of nitrites to curing Brines is covered in two chapters namely:
- Chapter 12.03: The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – the Master Butcher from Prague
- Chapter 12.04: The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – The Spoils of War
– Grid Bacon
A system pioneered in Germany in the early 2000s. This final article of interest is not part of Bacon & the Art of Living, but it fits here because it represents the latest thinking about the most modern curing system.
– Bacterial Fermentation of Meat
Where nitrite was previously accessed in England through brine fermentation, it has been discovered in recent years that bacteria are able to ferment the meat itself and create Nitric Oxide from the proteins in the meat to effect curing.
The Story of Bacon
The plotline takes place in the 2000s with each character referring to a real person and actual events. The theme is a kind of “steampunk” where modern mannerisms, speech, clothes and practices are superimposed on a historical setting. The characters are modern people, most of whom are based on real people and they interact with old historical figures with all the historical and cultural bias that goes with this. As the title indicates, it is far more than only the history of bacon as it relates these events to a personal quest to find purpose in life through the pursuit of bacon. In the process family, friends and concepts such as nationalism and faith are examined in a way relevant to the pursuit of excellence.
The index page to Bacon & the Art of Living: Bacon & the Art of Living
“Canadian Bacon” by Kevin Clees. A master at the art and a true inspiration!
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The complete history of bacon.