The cure for bacon lovers

Fed up with mass-produced bacon that oozes water and shrivels to nothing in the pan? Well, here's the tasty alternative...

For centuries, every British pig-owning household made its own bacon. Even city-dwellers kept animals in their basements, until it was outlawed by health regulations in the 1870s. The majority of breeds were chosen for their ability to yield long, fatty flitches (sides) of bacon. The slaughtered pig would be hung for a day and then cured with salt to preserve it through the winter. The cure might be dry (salt) or wet (brine) - sweet, spiced or plain. This "green" bacon could then be smoked if hung up the chimney.

For centuries, every British pig-owning household made its own bacon. Even city-dwellers kept animals in their basements, until it was outlawed by health regulations in the 1870s. The majority of breeds were chosen for their ability to yield long, fatty flitches (sides) of bacon. The slaughtered pig would be hung for a day and then cured with salt to preserve it through the winter. The cure might be dry (salt) or wet (brine) - sweet, spiced or plain. This "green" bacon could then be smoked if hung up the chimney.

Gradually, industrialisation embraced bacon production and leaner pig breeds were developed. An intensively reared, modern, bacon pig takes little exercise and dines on a low-fat feed. Consequently, the animal has far less flavour than a frisky outdoor pig, which develops a tasty marbling of fat through its well-exercised muscles. This "low fat" meat is usually then cured by being injected with brine by hundreds of tiny needles. The resulting bacon absorbs more water and increases its weight. Once subjected to heat, the bacon releases this liquid, leaving you with a pathetic, shrivelled slice.

There is an alternative to these mass-produced rashers. There are still people dedicated to keeping alive the old skills of curing bacon. All, apart from Duchy Original Bacon (available from Waitrose), sell locally and by mail order. Among the finest is Mooreland Foods (01625 548499) in Morley Green, Cheshire, which is run by third- and fourth-generation curers, John and Darren Ward. "We dry-cure our pork with salt," explains Darren Ward, "but you must do it by hand. You have to able to feel the meat, almost caress it, to know how much salt it needs," - the leaner the meat, the more salt it will absorb and the more liquid it will lose.

Pork middles are laid out, flesh-side up, then rubbed and covered with a layer of fine Cheshire rock salt. The process is repeated until 10 flitches are stacked on top of one another. After five days (although the time will vary with each curer), the meat is turned and left for another five days. At this stage, it will be rinsed and hung to dry for up to two weeks. Once dried, it can be smoked for up to 48 hours over oak, beech or maple chippings.

Darren Ward has found that Gloucester Old Spot pigs crossed with Large Whites give his bacon the best flavour and fat-to-lean ratio. Having tasted their Dry Cured Cheshire Bacon, I cannot disagree - it has a gorgeous, well-rounded, salty bacon flavour. Within seconds of being added to a hot pan, it sizzles into an appetising crisp rasher with golden fat. Not a splatter of water in sight. His Sweet Black Bacon, which is dry-cured with salt and dark molasses sugar before being smoked, is equally wonderful.

George Streatfield, bacon-curer for Highgrove's Duchy Original organic pigs, also believes it is essential to physically feel each flitch as you rub in the cure. "We have been dry-curing our own whey-fed pigs from Denhay Farm [in Dorset] for years," he says, "yet we found that the texture of the Highgrove pigs (three-quarters Duroc and one-quarter Landrace) can vary a great deal from ours." Whether this is due to their organic diet, outdoor lifestyle or the cold weather, he cannot tell, but the texture of the meat allows them to gauge how much Maldon sea salt and unrefined sugar to add. The end result is a delicious, lightly salted bacon with sweet undertones. So popular has the Duchy Originals Organic Dry Cured Back Bacon (£3.99, Waitrose) become, that demand has almost outstripped the supply.

Originally, commercially produced British bacon evolved from a method known as the Wiltshire cure. It was developed in the 18th century by a Wiltshire family called Harris. Using rooms chilled by ice, they discovered that they needed much less salt to cure their bacon and hams. The last such bacon factory in Wiltshire finally closed 12 years ago, much to the consternation of Keen's, one their local pig suppliers. Determined to keep the tradition alive, they formed Sandridge Farmhouse Bacon, near Chippenham in Wiltshire (01380 850304). Surprisingly, their wet-cured bacon had the most robust, porcine flavour of all that I tried.

Curers will tell you that bacon made according to early 20th-century recipes is too salty for modern palates. Tastes have changed, as Richard Woodall's family (01229 717237) has witnessed, having cured bacon and hams in Cumbria since 1828. He currently sells two robustly flavoured, salty bacons (one of which is smoked) based on his family's recipe for a Traditional Dry Cure Cumberland Bacon. Yet any attempt to discuss family curing methods will result in Mr Woodall becoming the most reticent of men.

Not surprisingly, bacon curers are by nature very secretive. Working mainly with salt, sodium nitrate and, of course, pork, their success depends on utilising years of experience. Michael Slack of Slack's in Raisbeck, Cumbria (mail order 01539 624667), for example, has developed an unusual wet-cured bacon. His flitches are monitored in their briny baths for seven days before being air-dried for two weeks. The resulting Home Cured Best Back Bacon has an amazingly succulent texture and fine light flavour.

Having eaten my way this week through some of the best bacon I've ever tasted, I urge you to seek out traditionally cured bacon. Breakfast will never be the same again.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
News
news

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney 'denied all knowledge' of the Twitter activity

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
Life and Style
View of champagne glasses at a beach bar set up along the Croisette during the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 17, 2013
food + drink(and for now, there's a clear winner)
News
The author PD James, who died on 27 November 2014
people

Detective novelist who wrote Death comes to Pemberley passed away peacefully at her home, aged 94

Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
arts + ents
Life and Style
tech

Sites using the popular Gigya comment platform were attacked by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA)

Extras
indybest
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luton – £25k

    25,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luto...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?