Bacon 101: A Q&A with certified bacon instructor Marshall Porter
If you go
What: Keystone’s fifth-annual Blue Ribbon Bacon Tour, sponsored by the Keystone Neighbourhood Co.
When: 1-6 p.m. Saturday, June 27, and Sunday, June 28
Where: River Run Village, Keystone Resort
Cost: Tickets are $20 in advance, $22 at the door for the Piglet Package; $30 in advance, $35 at the door for the Samplin’ Swine; $50 in advance, $55 at the door for the Hungry Hog; and a-la-carte tasting tickets are $4 each, which can be exchanged for one item at any of the participating food vendor tents.
More information: Visit www.keystonefestivals.com and click on the “Blue Ribbon Bacon Tour” logo to purchase tickets and learn more
The Blue Ribbon Bacon Tour will celebrate its fifth anniversary in Keystone on Saturday, June 27, and Sunday, June 28, with more than a ton and a half of bacon served up in strips, stacks, skewers and even cocktails.
Marshall Porter, chief bacon officer for the Blue Ribbon Bacon Tour, has been sharing this pork-based passion for more than a decade. Alongside Brooks Reynolds, chairman of the board and the “face of bacon,” Porter has taken his message of bacon fellowship from its humble roots on the shores of Spirit Lake in Iowa to the mountains of Colorado and across the ocean to Reykjavik, Iceland.
We caught up with Porter to learn more about how his love affair began with one of America’s favorite foods and how he came to share that zeal with others.
Summit Daily News: How did the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival get started, and how did you become its “chief bacon officer”?
Marshall Porter: I was kind of a latchkey kid growing up, so when my brothers and I usually got home from school, our afternoon snack was pretty much cooking up a pound of bacon. We did this so much that my younger brother started spending his allowance on it because he didn’t quite get enough with two older brothers. So I’ve always had a fondness for bacon.
Later on, as life progressed, my younger brother and I and Brooks — he’s the face of bacon — came up with a bunch of other guys to Spirit Lake, Iowa, and we decided that everyone would bring a couple of pounds of their favorite bacon and a 12-pack of their favorite beer. It was a weekend long celebration. We’d gather on the beach at night, have a little bonfire, cook a little bacon on the bonfire, have bacon s’mores. We’d all kind of sing this — with a chorus with the acoustic guitar in the background — this “Oh, Bacon” kind of chant. People would share their most loving memories of bacon; it was a moment of sharing, bacon fellowship.
That was in 2001. Then, we got this opportunity to start sharing the celebration with the public, and it’s expanded from there, in Des Moines, Iowa, to Keystone, Colorado, and Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s been a lot of fun.
As it relates to my education in bacon, anything you’re passionate in, you’re going to spend a lot of time learning about. I’ve attended multiple classes at Living History Farms, had the opportunity to sit down with actual doctors, Ph.Ds in meat science. I’ve attended a lot of seminars over the years, and, being a producer of this movie we’ve been working on called “State of Bacon,” I had the opportunity to visit a lot of farms and processing plants and that kind of fun stuff. I’ve grown a very intimate knowledge of bacon over the years.
SDN: For the layperson, where does bacon come from, how is it made and what makes “artisan” brands different?
MP: It comes from the belly cut of a pig, this American-style bacon that we celebrate the most does. Then it goes through a simple curing and smoking process, and it’s sliced up. It’s pretty simple. Each one of those processes is very important.
One would be the pig itself: if it’s a heritage breed hog, a commercial hog — where did it come from, and what did it feed on? Both of those things are going to impart that flavor profile of the meat, as well as how much stress did it endure during its life. That’s an important component as it relates to flavor later on.
There’s several ways to cure. A lot of store-bought bacon is going to be infused with a wet cure solution, so it’s kind of an injected curing solution that they put into it and it cures the bacon much faster and more efficiently. However, a dry cure, which was what was used 50 years ago, is extremely effective. It’s a longer process, but people enjoy the enhanced flavor of a longer curing process, when you basically cover the belly with curing salt and other flavors, if you’d like to add some sugar, honey, maple. People play around with cayenne and other types of fun things.
Also in the curing process, you’ll find that a lot of these artisan bacons will make claims of being uncured. With an uncured type of product, it’s being cured, but they’re using more natural ingredients like a celery powder in order to add the nitrates to the bacon and safely cure it, so it can be smoked.
And then after that, there’s the smoking. Some large, very inexpensive bacons are going to use liquid smoke instead of actual hardwoods; however, liquid smoke is the result of real wood being burned. It’s just gathered and goes through some crazy weird process to have this liquid that tastes like smoke. A lot of what we call naturally wood, smoked bacon is going to be a little more expensive — a lot of the artisans use that.
Those are some main components, and then also how it’s sliced. After it’s been cured and smoked and whatever kind of pig it’s been, how it had been fed and slaughtered — through all that process, you get to the processing side of slicing it and packaging it well and making sure it’s consumed in a certain timeframe. Even preparation: throw it in the oven and bake it, fry it in a pan, put it on the exhaust manifold of a ’64 Chevy and drive it for 100 miles — that works, too.
SDN: Why do you think bacon has become such a popular delectable in the past few years?
MP: I think that some people will chalk it up to a fad. I don’t, of course. I’ve been seriously passionate about bacon for a while. I think that when it comes down to a guilty pleasure for somebody who might not be 100 percent into sweet or 100 percent into salt, it’s the best of both worlds. It’s this all-American meat. It packs so much flavor into it, and, at the same time, it doesn’t cost as much as a steak. So it can be the kind of every person’s meat, and it keeps for a long time.
I think it just comes down to the fact that bacon is just delicious — it’s ridiculously delicious. … We choose to celebrate it because it’s so darn delicious, but also because we believe in what bacon represents to us. It’s kind of this extreme kind of meat, this extreme food that makes dishes oftentimes better. It also makes life better. It’s kind of fun to indulge and have a bunch of fun and share that fun with people that we care about.
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