FAIRFIELD — Type the title “Bacon: A Love Story” into Amazon.com, and the site will tell you that the book, by part-time Fairfield resident Heather Lauer, is frequently bought together with bacon air freshener for your car and bacon adhesive bandages. Nearby are bacon mints and “Mr. Bacon vs. Monsieur Tofu” action figures.
If none of these things surprise you, you’ve been following the bacon trend.
“I don’t think there’s one thing you can point to” to explain that trend, said Lauer, a public relations specialist who spends the rest of her time in Phoenix. She wrote the book based partly on a blog about bacon she has been keeping since about 2004, which she started after her brothers dared her to during a night on the town in Boise.
Lauer said the Atkins diet, which prohibits carbohydrates but allows a lot of meat, helped to launch the trend. “For a long time, meat has been this tabooish thing, but now it’s OK,” she said.
The best bacon is made by small farms via traditional methods, Lauer asserted, and with the rise of Internet ordering and with the increasing popularity of buying local food from local farmers, that specialty bacon got easier to buy. If you don’t want to mail-order, ask your grocery store’s butcher for the bacon that’s sold from the meat case, as it is usually better quality than that sold in the packages nearby, she said.
However, Falls Brand, a division of Independent Meat Co. of Twin Falls, makes some of the best commercially packaged bacon on the market, Lauer said. “We live in a time when Falls Brand can compete with Oscar Meyer in the grocery stores,” she said.
Chuck Whitney, assistant sales manager at Falls, said the company’s bacon market share and sales are up a bit over a decade ago, despite the brand having a slightly higher price than most national brands.
“A lot of times somebody who hasn’t bought our bacon might pick another one that’s less money. If we can get it in their mouth, they’ll come back and buy it again,” he said, noting that Falls uses natural applewood smoke rather than smoke flavor and is discerning about which pork bellies it makes into bacon.
Another reason for bacon’s popularity is its familiarity and comfort, its smell reminiscent of childhood Sunday mornings.
“People are returning to the kitchen in a way that they haven’t (before). When you return to cooking at home, you return to things you know,” Lauer said, noting that those people looked to cookbooks and cooking shows for tips and recipes. “Every single one of (the Food Network’s) chefs uses bacon. They’ll tell you it’s one of their secret weapons.”
And unlike truffles, foie gras and caviar, bacon is also affordable and accessible — assuming you’re not special-ordering artisanal bacon, which thanks to sites like gratefulpalate.com and store.nimanranch.com, you can. If you want to buy locally produced bacon, try Idaho farmers Double XL Ranch in Melba and HardBall Farms in Nampa, suggests Dustan Bristol, chef and owner of Brick 29, a Nampa restaurant that specializes in bacon.
Whitney said people are willing to spend a bit more for a better bacon once they’ve tasted it. “That’s the way a lot of folks look at it: It’s a treat.”
With bacon recipes getting increasingly creative, home cooks are incorporating the cured meat into dishes more frequently — although its high fat content does keep it off most daily menus.
“It’s not something everyday, but it’s not something that’s out of reach,” Lauer said.
Chefs have begun turning to pork in general because it is inexpensive and flavorful, Bristol said, and his restaurant goes through 80 to 90 pounds of bacon each Sunday brunch.
Outside the U.S., what is called bacon is usually made from the pork loin — they call the American variety “streaky bacon,” Lauer said — but technically as long as it’s made from pork and it’s cured, it’s bacon.
Some producers are spicing it with maple, cinnamon, jalapeno, sundried tomato, vanilla bourbon or other flavors, and there are varieties like Canadian bacon and cottage or hillbilly bacon in addition to the traditional thin or thick strips.
And then there’s the weird side of bacon.
“The bacon-in-ice cream thing freaks people out, it’s just too much for some people,” Lauer said, trying to come up with a food that bacon hasn’t been successfully added to. The ice cream, she said, is actually quite good — the only thing she could think of that bacon might not do so well with is fresh citrus.
At Brick 29, Bristol has made bacon chocolate chip cookies, chocolate-dipped bacon slices, and a series of cocktails made with bacon-flavored vodka, including a bloody mary and a bacon-apple martini.
What about the bacon-flavored toothpicks, lip balm, jellybeans, lollipops, gum and chocolate, and the it-looks-like-bacon T-shirts, soap and (Lauer has gotten four of these as gifts) wallets? “Social networking circulates the offbeat bacon stuff,” she said.
Ultimately, the appeal of bacon comes down to flavor.
“That smoky, meaty flavor appeals to our basic instincts,” Lauer said, describing the combination of sweet and salty. And that is why, even when this current craze fades away, bacon will remain popular. “We’re always going to be eating bacon.”
Ariel Hansen may be reached at 788-3475 or firstname.lastname@example.org.