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Back to bacon

A breakfast staple renews its image with new artisan brands

May 15, 2002|By Kristin Eddy, Tribune staff reporter.

(The headline as published has been corrected in this text.)

Pork belly futures are looking pretty terrific. Oh, who knows how they're doing on the commodities market; the really bright future is in the popular craving for bacon.

You can see it not only in your own kitchen and in high-end restaurants, but in the variety of old-fashioned, smokehouse-style bacons now in specialty food markets. Our craving for the tasty strips is strictly based on taste; it doesn't get any nods for its health benefits.

FOR THE RECORD - This story contains corrected material. The headline as published contained a misspelled word.

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Compare bacon to its classic sidekick, eggs--which got a reprieve from the nutrition community when research showed that eating a couple each week was fine. Even chocolate has gotten good marks lately for its alleged antioxidant benefits.

Bacon, on the other hand, is strictly an indulgence, with enough obvious fat that the eater can't begin to pretend that it's good for them. But hey, who cares? If loving it is wrong, plenty of Americans don't want to be right, seeing as how the National Pork Board reports that bacon sales increased 45 percent from 1999 to 2000, the latest figures available.

The majority of those sales are for the more common breakfast strips, which turn up in diner breakfasts, as fast-food burger embellishments and in home kitchens.

But look for more of the traditionally crafted bacons to appear in specialty markets, as the appreciation develops for a good, thick strip of bacon beautifully proportioned between tender, slow-smoked meat and lines of flavorful fat.

"Most people think of bacon as sliced paper-thin and when you cook it up you end up with a small piece and a large puddle of grease," said John Duyn, owner of the Carlton Packing Co. near Portland, Ore., a small producer of old-fashioned bacon.

The smokehouse-style meats are a long way from mass-produced bacon. And for that reason, serious bacon lovers as well as restaurant chefs pay close to $12 a pound for such brands as Carlton's or Nueske's instead of $5.40 for Oscar Mayer.

Around 1,000 people have joined the bacon-of-the-month club at The Grateful Palate, a food and wine mail-order business based in California, according to owner Dan Philips. The catalog features bacon from small producers in states you would associate with the product, such as Kentucky, and those you wouldn't, such as Connecticut.

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