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Cured meat from back and sides of a pig - sometimes smoked. If left unsmoked it
is termed "green". The word comes from an old French word meaning pork and cured pork products.
The Romans made bacon (petaso) from the shoulders of pigs, and when fried, served it with a wine and pepper sauce (Apicius, V111, ii, 4, 7, 8, V11, x11, 1, ix-x).
Pigs were the most popular source of meat in mediaeval times; pork being perhaps the only eat which tastes better cured than fresh - fresh meat in winter months would then have been rarity. Country folk ate their bacon with pease or bean pottage or with a joutes (mixed herb paste) - pease pottage remained a staple country dish for several hundred years.
Buying bacon: The British bacon tradition is something which should have been widely perfected by now; however, apart from a few passionate bacon producers, things seem to be going from bad to worse.
British supermarkets have been slow to grasp the nettle in the way the have, to a certain extent, with bread, eggs, fruit and vegetables.
Instead of seeking out unadulterated forms of bacon - some of which are listed below - the meat is generally flooded with added water and sodium nitrate. All this results in making the bacon hard to crisp, and the oozing of the now familiar white pus-like substance.
The consumer is also paying the full market price for water - which disappears during the cooking process - so unnatural shrinkage occurs.
One of the problems seems to be that "modern" cross-breeds, reared to produce less fat, seem to be incapable of weaning their young in a free range habitat. The process no longer comes naturally to them and they tend to lie on their piglets.
Many of the best bacons are produced by the "Dry-Cured" method. This means rather than being soaked in brine, it has been dry-salted with a mixture of salt, saltpetre and sugar. This is rubbed into the side of bacon over a period of about two weeks.
Pigs used to produce dry-cure bacon have to have a high proportion of fat otherwise their meat would become dry and hard when cooked. It is important not to remove this fat before cooking, as it keeps the bacon moist and adds to the flavour. It can always be left at the side of your plate if you don't want to eat it, then gently rendered down to keep in the fridge; this will provide you with a delicious cooking medium for your next sauté potatoes.
The small sacrifice therefore seems to be, that to have bacon that is (a) pus-free (b) full of flavour (c) can be easily crisped - one has to put up with a little extra fat!
The latest production benefit for manufacturers - but certainly no advantage to the discerning consumer- is to replace the natural smoking process with a bath in a liquid smoke solution; this produces a smoke-flavour more quickly and with less hassle to the producer. So far, this procedure doesn't even have to be mentioned on the label of pre-packed bacon, and the bacon can still be called "smoked"
It is worth remembering that bacon tends to be prepared in a stronger cure the further north it is produced. Back bacon - the best cut - is also rolled and the sliced, in the North, which is why northern rashers are rounded.
If you seek out the bacons listed here you should add an extra delight to your breakfast - they are by no means the only excellent products available (send in your own nominations, and we will test them).
To buy bacon, see our Mail Order Section