You'd thought you'd seen it all when the Bacon Explosion, that hunk of sausage wrapped in two pounds of bacon, hit the scene with all the sizzle of a crispy fried strip. And then the Turbaconducken, a whole chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey and enveloped in bacon, commanded every glutton's attention.
But these gratuitous ventures into bacon bliss have simply ushered in a new wave of cured-pork mania. Today, bacon's in everything from desserts to liquor - and it's not just adventurous foodies lapping up the grease.
As chocolate-soaked bacon is served up at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto this week and International Bacon Day approaches
on Sept. 5, it's time to say bye-bye bacon-wrapped scallops and hello bacon baklava.
Sweet, sweet meat
Bacon nestled next to a stack of maple-syrup-soaked pancakes is no culinary eureka, so it's natural to salivate over a maple-glazed doughnut adorned with two strips of bacon, no? The Bacon Maple Bar is a top seller at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Ore., says its account manager, Kimberly Litkie. The shop serves up "at least a thousand" daily.
Their formula is simple, yet genius: "We took two pieces of thick-cut bacon, put them on a maple bar and magic happened," she says.
Earlier this month Bob Blumer, Food Network Canada's Surreal Gourmet, won top honours at an Austin, Tex., ice-cream-making competition. His winning flavour? Maple bacon crunch. Bacon has also slipped its way into cookies, brownies and cinnamon rolls. Artisan candy-makers have even whipped up maple bacon lollipops. And, fittingly, the creators of Bacon Today, a cured-pork news website, recently dressed a colleague's birthday cake with strips.
THE BACON CUPCAKE MARRIAGE
Cupcakes are a huge trend, bacon is a huge trend - it's only natural to put the two together, says Scott Kveton, CEO of Bac'n, a shop for bacon lovers in Portland, Ore. And - alas - a quaint little bakery on Toronto's Queen Street West has put the bake in bacon. Yummy Stuff owner Morag Cleeveley introduced Chocolate Oatmeal Cupcakes with Maple Bacon frosting in March, luring snackers into her shop to devour the tiny delights made with bacon-lard icing and crowned with crumpled bacon.
While pork-loving Canadians have been slower on the bacon-cupcake uptake than their American counterparts, Ms. Cleeveley says she's won over some very skeptical customers. "I would say 50 per cent of people try it just out of curiosity and 50 per cent of people are returning, loving it, wanting more."
Janet Vu was wary as she dipped her plastic fork into three strips of bacon in a pool of chocolate sauce. "It's ... interesting" she said after a taste and a long pause Sunday at the Canadian National Exhibition. But the 18-year-old offered tentative praise after finishing the last strip of hickory-smoked bacon from the Sweet Treats concession stand. "I like it well enough."
Chocolate-covered bacon has become a favourite at U.S. state fairs, which spurred the CNE's food manager to introduce it at the Ex, says vendor Scott Skinkle. On Saturday, the stand sold more than 25 bacon dishes at $5 a piece. A rush of early birds bought it for breakfast Sunday, adds co-vendor Vicky Skinkle. "Most people that come up here are going, 'Ew! Bacon dipped in chocolate? What does that taste like?' " It's a simple combo of the two, she explains - nothing to be afraid of. "Then they taste it and say, 'Yes, it's really good.' "
"I'll have a shot of Bakon please!" Canadians will be hollering this at bars by next summer if all goes well for Sven Liden and company. "We started testing with bacon-infusions a few years ago and decided that it was so good in a Bloody Mary that we wanted to make it a commercial product," says the business manager for Black Rock Spirits in Seattle. The first bottles of Bakon Vodka hit American store shelves this May. Pretty soon Mr. Liden and his colleagues were comparing it with high-end vodkas in taste tests - of course, the bacon-flavoured liquor came out on top.
Can't wait for it to hit the Canadian market? Making bacon-infused vodka at home is possible, but an ordeal (one must skim off the pork fat and strain it until the booze adopts a slight bacon taste). Better to copy bars that have employed bacon-flavoured salt to craft BLT cocktails and meatier Bloody Marys.
If hard liquor isn't your thing, earlier this month Brooklyn Brewery in New York added a bacon-flavoured brew on tap. "It's almost terrifying how much the malt smells like bacon," brewmaster Garrett Oliver told The New York Times.
We'll have another round, please.
The bacon innovation never stops: A sample of favourite products created in ode to bacon mania.
Bacon-flavoured lip gloss
Bacon-scented air freshener
Bacon-striped bifold wallet
Bacon-print neck ties
Bacon flavoured gumballs
Bacon-print slip-on shoes
Pig "Smells Like Bacon" pajama pants for men