Bacon is the ultimate comfort food and the only thing better than waking up to the smell of it in the skillet is its fatty, greasy, delicious taste. Yet, for health reasons, you may be taking bacon in moderation. So why indulge yourself with supermarket-quality bacon, when artisan bacon is available? Would you drink VSOP if you could be drinking XO?
Unfortunately, most people don't look at bacon with the same discriminating eye they do for spirits, cigars or even steak. If you're an artisan bacon lover, however, mass-produced, one-dimensional strip bacon won't do. You seek out pork bellies from fattened free-range pigs that are cured and smoked using different recipes and woods (hickory, applewood, cob and alder are a few) for succulent and complex flavors.
Artisan bacon is found at high-end groceries and butcher shops, restaurants, and farms with curing and smoking operations. Here are a few worth checking out:
The Grateful Palate (www.gratefulpalate.com) Dan Phillips, a.k.a. Captain Bacon, runs this mail-order company and offers more than 40 different bacons from farmers around the country. Phillips also has a Bacon of the Month Club and even was the head "cure-ator" at a gathering dubbed Camp Bacon in Kentucky.
Lobel's of New York (www.lobels.com) Lobel's is famous for its specialty meats, and its Double Hickory Smoked Bacon is well worth the $11 per pound. The pork bellies are cured and smoked with the rib bones intact and are then removed, leaving a pink marbled appearance. The bacon has deep, smoky flavors.
Heritage Foods USA (www.heritagefoodsusa.com) You know Heritage for its free-range turkeys, but it also has an extensive line of bacon and uses the same stringent laws to raise six different breeds of pigs, including Red Wattles, Gloucestershire Old Spots and Berkshires. $75 gets you five pounds.
Nueske's (www.nueskes.com) Nueske's has been around since 1933 and applewood-smoked bacon is its specialty. Rich and smoky, the bacon is available, sliced thick or thin, for around $9 per pound. Nueske's also offers peppered bacon, in which the skin has a cracked-pepper coating.
Nodine's Smokehouse (www.nodinessmokehouse.com) Based in Torrington, Connecticut, and founded in 1969, Nodine's bacons include apple, juniper, garlic and bayou bacon. They can be found in high-end stores like Dean & Deluca or ordered through Nodine's Web site. Four-pound slabs cost $24.40 and sliced is $8 a pound.