Why we love bacon

Bacon Photo: William Meppem

"Move over, eggs,'' said everyman icon Homer Simpson. ''Bacon just got a new best friend … fudge.''

Don't scoff. Bacon has gone far beyond a mere side dish and is now seen in everything from desserts to drinks. People don't just ''like'' bacon. Unless you're talking about the Facebook page for bacon, which has more than 11 million likes. Jesus Christ on Facebook only has 968,000. There are dozens of breathless online fan pages devoted to the porcine treat. There are bacon cookbooks, including Seduced by Bacon by Joanna Pruess. There are bacon Band-Aids, bacon neckties, bacon coffee mugs, bacon earrings and even a bacon video series on YouTube. Overrated or justified?

The fast-food industry has long embraced the brined beauty of this cheap cut of pork. Red Rooster currently has the Bacon Lovers Collection, advertised like calorific couture. And the salty meat is also appearing on high-end menus in increasingly creative permutations.

Sydney culinary champ Dan Hong saw the trend coming a mile away when he created the infamous Stoner's Delight dessert at Ms. G's in Potts Point. The dish includes doughnut ice-cream, peanut butter dulce de leche, raspberry jam, potato chips, Mars bar slice, banana fritter and candied bacon … on the one plate. ''The bacon adds a salty, smoky element that actually cuts the sweetness of all the other components of the dish,'' Hong says. ''To be honest, I don't think it's strange at all. The saltiness of bacon really counteracts the richness of a lot of desserts and I think it works brilliantly.''

Dan Hong's 'Stoner's Delight' dessert.
Dan Hong's 'Stoner's Delight' dessert. Photo: Domino Postiglione

Over in Chinatown (and now open on Melbourne's Brunswick Street), gelato fans hassled N2 Extreme Gelato to mix up a bacon ice-cream, with a Facebook campaign titled: You Guys Have to Make a Bacon Gelato! Owner Min Chai was happy to oblige. ''We ended up making one called We Are the Champions,'' Chai says. ''Firstly, we partially froze our smoked-maple gelato, then mixed in candied bacon by caramelising it with brown sugar and a bit of soy sauce. We also had Spam and mustard gelato recently. It was very popular for the week it was available!''

That's not all. Sydney is loco for bacon. There's maple bacon ketchup at Miss Peaches Soul Food Kitchen, and beer-braised smoked bacon at the Roosevelt in Kings Cross. Speaking of booze, there's bacon-infused bourbon at the QT Hotel's Gilt Lounge. And hipster magnet Mary's, in Newtown, encourages punters to add bacon to the burgers. But not just any bacon … it's dubbed Trashcan Bacon in accordance with how former Tetsuya's chef Luke Powell smokes his streaky strips, literally, over a rubbish bin.

Melbourne diners are similarly enamoured. Chef Andy Gale, from breakfast behemoths St Ali and the Duchess of Spotswood, recently collaborated with specialty smallgoods house Gamze for a series of designer dishes. Free-range, nitrate-free, thick-cut bacon steaks were served trucker-style with eggs sunny side up, fried potato chips and a dollop of house-made chutney.


So what makes great bacon? ''Obviously it makes a difference if you've got a free-range animal,'' Gale says. ''The fat content is better, and the animal has had a better life so that shines through. But the whole skill of making bacon is being recognised more than ever. Two years ago it was really hard to find a good ''green'' bacon. Now there are quite a few people making it.''

FYI: Green bacon isn't actually green - it's non-smoked, dry-cured bacon without the nitrates that turn the meat its familiar pink shade. Green bacon has a limited shelf life, but a better flavour.

Scott Pickett, from Collingwood's hit new restaurant Saint Crispin, has his bacon smoked at a tiny suburban butcher in Melbourne's north-east who he's known for 15 years.

'We are the champions' bacon gelato at N2 Gelato.
'We are the champions' bacon gelato at N2 Gelato. Photo: Michael Harry

''The smokiness of bacon lends itself really well to infusions or to creams,'' Pickett says. ''We do a parmesan and bacon espuma [foam] with a venison consomme and I'll get the bacon, salt-cure it, and send it away to my guy to be smoked.''

Will he share the name of his smoker? Not a chance. If you find a provider this good, you keep the knowledge to yourself, he says.

The business of bacon is pretty serious. Fleischmeister Horst Schurger would know - he's part of the Australian Bacon Week judging team and has a master's degree in butchering and smallgoods from the Master College in Monchengladbach, Germany. Let's call him the Baron of Bacon.

''For any award-winning bacon, you have to make sure it's made with a good piece of Australian pork, because when it's imported, it's been frozen,'' he says. ''When you freeze meat, it's not good for the texture and the moisture.''

Next: the right ratio of fat to meat, the right brine, the right cure - not too salty, not too sweet. But how to explain bacon's popularity in Australia? ''Bacon is more of an English tradition, so when they came to Australia it was easy to make bacon, because you didn't need much machinery,'' Schurger says. ''Traditionally it's hot, so people would go out all day on a full stomach and not need much lunch. This is why bacon is the quintessential Australian breakfast.''

North Americans have long embraced bacon as a sweet-savoury shapeshifter - they routinely douse it in sugary syrup and serve it with cakey waffles. Adriano Zumbo found the meat was a natural fit for his revered macarons. ''It doesn't go with all flavour profiles as it has this salty, fatty taste,'' Zumbo says. ''Bacon is more suited to rich or sweet foods like chocolate, caramel, maple, pumpkin, vanilla, peanut and lemon.''

There have been two bacon versions of the Zumbaron. The first involved cooking the bacon and blitzing it into the filling with maple syrup. The second added raw smoked bacon into the filling for a far more savoury hit. ''We used award-winning Lucas bacon from Bronte. It is definitely one for the adventurous!''

And Philippa Sibley, ''dessert queen'' and chef at Brunswick restaurant Albert St Food & Wine, agrees. ''Bacon is absolutely delicious in a sweet dish. I've done a bread-and-butter pudding with pumpkin ice-cream and confit bacon, which is pretty fun.''

On Sibley's menu, you'll also find bacon salt on her potatoes and bacon dumplings in her orecchiette. ''After nearly 30 years in the kitchen, I've done bacon jelly, bacon ice-cream, all sorts of stuff,'' she says. ''It's definitely my favourite part of the pig … I adore bacon. I'm a sucker for it, and just about any meat eater is.''

The world's best chefs aren't afraid to celebrate bacon. Australian fine-dining master Jacques Reymond's current menu features a sublime tart of pork cheek, liquorice, bleu de Basque and bacon foam. ''We wanted to have something contemporary with our pork dish, so we make a warm bacon foam,'' Reymond says. ''Potatoes and bacon are absolutely fantastic together. Just the bacon by itself is too strong! That's the thing about bacon - it cannot be too salty or too smoky. If it becomes bitter, then it's been pushed too hard.''

Overseas, New York chef Dan Barber serves elegant shards of ''pig-face bacon'' as a starter at his revered restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Rene Redzepi whips bacon fat to spread on bread at Noma. Momofuku's David Chang does a mean bacon dashi, a milky broth poured over ramen noodles. And, of course, there's Heston Blumenthal's ubiquitous bacon and egg ice-cream, which just might have started this whole bacon revolution in the first place.

Bravo, we say, as we leave you with these words from novelist Jasper Fforde: ''This is the wisdom. First, time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted. Second, almost anything can be improved with the addition of bacon.''

Bacon - why are we so crazy for it? Share your thoughts (and your favourite way to eat it) in the comments below. And if you've tried it in an unusual dish, what was it and did it pass the taste test?