Last month at Toronto’s epic St. Lawrence Market, we spotted several stands offering peameal bacon, both raw and served in sandwiches. Peameal bacon is a pork loin, cured in saltwater but not smoked, and then rolled in corn meal. As the name implies, this bacon was originally rolled in ground up peas, but shortages of that legume during World War I prompted the producers to switch to more readily available cornmeal.
Peameal bacon is just one of the many types of “bacon” we’ve seen in markets and restaurants, and some of that “bacon” is not made of pork belly or even pig. Despite the fact that, since the Middle Ages, “bacoun” has meant pork, the word is now applied to many different types of animal protein.
Salmon bacon, available at Trader Joe’s, is the fish, smoked and cured with maple syrup, hitting a few of the traditional smoky sweet notes of pork bacon. I’ve been served salmon bacon that seems to have been cut from the fattier belly of the fish, but that’s not always the case. With some of the taste of pork bacon and fewer of the calories, salmon bacon is a good alternative for those with dietary or religious restrictions on eating pork.
Beef bacon is available at Jewel-Osco as well as better butcher shops, including the venerable and excellent Paulina Market. We were also quite pleased with Schmacon, which is smoked beef. Schmacon that uses whole muscle meat. Schmacon is edged with fat, which means it looks a lot like pork bacon, and the taste is satisfyingly beefy. If I were avoiding pork, I’d opt for Schmacon.
Turkey bacon? I just don’t want to talk about it.
Point is, you can cure and smoke lots of animal proteins and call it “bacon.”
The most delicious bacon I’ve purchased in Oak Park is from Carnivore. It’s cured and smoked over cherry wood in-house. Though not cheap ($17.50/lb.), Carnivore’s bacon has been hot smoked, so much fat has already been rendered out. Because it’s been cooked, one of the Carnivore butchers said I could eat it as is (not bad, kind of like smoky cheese, but I prefer it cooked so that it crisps up and, thanks to the Maillard Reaction, develops wonderful bacon-y flavors and aromas). Carnivore sources their pork from two small farms in Fairbury, Illinois, and the quality is very high. It’s the finest bacon around.
I had the boys at Carnivore cut up some slices thick, which is better for baking bacon, the best way to go.
At Pete’s Fresh Market, I counted over two dozen (!) varieties of bacon (not including Canadian bacon and several “turkey bacon” products).
Clearly, America loves bacon. Prove your love on International Bacon Day (September 1) by cooking up and enjoying some bacon, the unrivaled tastiest of all meats.