Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Great Victoria Bacon-Off

Welcome to the Great Victoria Bacon-Off!

This is an ongoing post featuring a semi-competitive, semi-silly comparison of the different sources of 'house-made' bacon in the city.

The bacon-off will take place in a single-elimination or 'knockout' tournament style, with two different kinds of bacon going up against each other in each round until only one bacon is left standing, and can be endowed with the coveted bacon crown*. The bacon is placed on a baking tray lined with parchment and place in a cold oven, which is then turned on to 375º F for 20 minutes on a convection bake setting, at which point the bacon is flipped and then baked for 5 more minutes (if required).


Round 4: Glenwood Meats vs Ravenstone Meats

IMG_3754 vs. IMG_3756
June 7, 2014
Another year, another round of the bacon-off! The best news is that waiting meant a few new additions to the bacon scene in Victoria, and that we are finally finished the 1/4 finals, so in theory... things should move faster after this ;)

Both bacons were cooked from fresh in a hot oven at 375 ºC for 10 minutes, flipped and cooked for another 5. My partner-in-food-and-life did not know which bacon was which, but we came to a unanimous decision!

The Glenwoods bacon was the underdog in this one. The bacon was about half the size when uncooked compared to it competitor, and had no fancy name or branding. I had to ask the Chop Shop staff where they source their bacon from. It released a moderate amount of grease during baking, but with not much shrinkage.

Ravenstone meat's bacon, found at the Victoria Downtown Public Market, was definitely the strongest contender in my mind! Called "whiskey smoked" it was cut to my taste and massive. However, it shrunk down to the same size as the other bacon during the cooking process, releasing just a little more grease than its competitor.

In the end we actually could not tell the two bacons apart. They were both very deliciously bacony... and it was almost a tie. However, I realize that with a fancy name that didn't pay off and slightly higher price point I couldn't suggest opting for the Ravenstone if you had a choice between the two. A very tough call, however... both were meaty, well smoked and quite delicious.

Winner: Glenwood Meats (found at the Rootcellar Chop Shop)

Round 3: Sloping Hills vs The Market House Smoked

Sloping Hills vs. The Market House Smoked

August 24, 2013
After another long pause for some more (delicious, bacony) research into locally-sourced bacon I have returned with another round! Both bacons were frozen for about a week, thawed and then cooked in a hot oven at 375 ºC for 10 minutes, flipped and cooked for another 5. My partner-in-food-and-life did not know which bacon was which, but we came to a unanimous, although still difficult, decision!

The Market bacon was much darker which imparted a distinct, delicious smoky flavour. It is smoked "in house" at their location in Langford. It was quite long, although it shrunk up a fair bit during cooking. The man behind the meat counter at the Market informed me that the pigs are raised in "Saskitoba" aka it could be either Saskatoon or Manitoba depending on the shipment. This was delicious bacon - smoky, not too salty and cheaper than most other gourmet bacons on this list. 

I stumbled across the Sloping Hills package of bacon in the bacon section at Peppers in Cadboro Bay. This is the same source of pig that Choux Choux uses, although I am unclear if this is bacon shipped out of the farm or if it is made at Peppers with Sloping Hill pigs. This bacon was much more red in colour in comparison to the Market's bacon. Although the strips looked quite short, they barely shrunk at all during cooking. Again, this bacon wasn't too salty which makes me very happy! Sloping Hills pigs are raised on the island as "happy pigs" so no questions about sourcing this time, and the added bonus of ethical farming methods! For me, this one of those "taste the difference" moments because what I could taste was undeniably... meaty! Not a lot of smoke, not a lot of caramelization... just meat. Although I like smoky bacon a lot, the flavour of this meat was really amazing. 

Winner: Sloping Hills

Round 2: The Whole Beast vs Hertel's

Whole Beast vs. Hertel's

February 3, 2013
After much anticipation, the Bacon-Off is back! I moved the weeks around a bit from their original configuration to make it a little bit easier, as I discovered that the Village Butcher also carries Hertel's as their 'house' bacon, meaning I could one-stop shop at one location for both sources of bacon. As I tweeted, my purse was full of bacon; it was glorious. Also a note for full transparency: I am on the board of Slow Food with Cory (owner of Whole Beast) and I have heard him talk passionately about curing meats so many times I have decided that if he a) had ingredients labelling, and b) was a hippie, 'love' would be pretty high on the list of ingredients. Also: I just finished a gumbo made with his delicious andouille (so there might be a bit of unintended bias on my part).

The Hertel's double-smoked bacon is the bacon many people are familiar with. Hertel's is located in Port Alberni, but resells their bacon to many shops such as Island Meat & Seafood in Cook St Village, Slater's and the Village Butcher. It was much thicker than the Whole Beast bacon, and ultimately a 'meatier' bacon. However, in comparison the vast majority of its flavour came from salt.

The Whole Beast bacon is also their house bacon, a rosemary-infused bacon, available pre-sliced by the strip. It was much thinner with much more 'marbling' than the Hertel's bacon, so cooked up faster. It wasn't smoky, but was packed with flavour, and it was pretty obvious why... the bacon was covered in little flecks of fresh spices. I'm pretty sure it was also 'maple' bacon, and I normally shy away from any kind of bacon labelled 'maple' anything, this had very little sweetness, even when compared with a very 'plain' bacon. 

Winner: The Whole Beast

Round 1: Choux Choux vs. Red Barn

Choux Choux vs. Red Barn

December 2, 2012
This bacon has been in the freezer for... a while... but, life happens, and life happened a lot this fall so I am trying to let go and just be okay with a bit of freezer burn. Both bacons have been in for approximately the same amount of time, so it feels fair to compare them even if I recognize they were obviously not as delicious as if it was fresh out of the deli counter. 

The Choux Choux bacon is their house bacon. Thick and smokey with a fair bit of caramelization. This bacon had more fat than its Red Barn counterpart while baking. I felt like the thickness and width meant they could have used a little longer in the oven, but after they had sat in a warmer while the potatoes cooked up they were just about right. It was less smoky, but had more complex flavour than the Red Barn Bacon.

The Red Barn bacon is their double-smoked bacon. It is thick, but the slices were inconsistent in width meaning some of it was burnt and some of it was just right by the time it came out. It released less fat than the Choux Choux bacon, but the grease was thicker in consistency. It was more smoky, but had less overall flavour than the Choux Choux bacon. 

Winner: Choux Choux 


Round 1: Choux Choux vs Whole Beast

Round 2: Sloping Hills vs Glenwood Meats


Championship Round: ? vs ?

* may or may not be actually made of bacon... but the internet tells me this is possible!