I’m crazy about bacon. I like meat in general a lot, but bacon–well, the pig is truly a magical animal. I like it when Michael cooks bacon for me. And we had a pretty good thing going, with thick cut bacon from the grocery store. It tasted pretty good. It made me happy.
Until one day at work, when I was casually shooting the breeze with a couple of coworkers, and the conversation turned to meat. It seems that we shared both a love for meat and a concern for animal welfare. The conversation was spirited. I talked about how I’ve been increasingly concerned about the quality of the meat I buy, and the research I’d done to find brands of meat that are ethically raised and humanely slaughtered. I told them about the book I was reading at the time, Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms by Nicolette Hahn Niman. We all agreed that commercially produced meats lacked flavor.
Then, all of the sudden, it dawned on me that bacon is (gasp) meat! For all of the efforts I’d put into sourcing the other meat in my life, I’d completely overlooked the bacon.
This led to a flurry of research on the internet. I certainly didn’t want to give up any flavor in the pursuit of ethically sourced bacon.
I went to PCC, my local natural foods store, and perused the bacon case. Applegate Farms Bacon was certified humane and didn’t appear awful, so I bought a pack.
Michael looked resigned, but dutifully cooked the Applegate Farms bacon the next weekend.
“It’s not bad, is it?” I asked. It seemed almost as good as the regular grocery store bacon to me. But, “It’s not thick cut.” Michael pointed out. “Why can’t I just buy the bacon I like?” I reminded him that we were on a quest for the best bacon out there, bacon that is both humane and delicious, and told him I’d keep searching.
I found an article on artisan bacon that made my mouth water, and started emailing some of the listed bacon producers to enquire about their husbandry methods.
At last, I’d narrowed the list down to Niman Ranch bacon. I’d read all about Niman Ranch brand meats in Righteous Porkchop, and I knew that they strove for the highest standards of taste and humane practices. Several articles on the internet had praised the quality of this bacon. All that remained was to find some.
I went to the Niman Ranch website, and put a couple packages of bacon in my shopping cart. Then, at checkout, I hit a stumbling block, with the nearly $30 in shipping costs for twelve dollars worth of bacon. I called customer service, and they explained all about the expenses of shipping meat on dry ice. They also gave me a list of Seattle area stores that carry Niman brand meats. After more phone calls, I determined that the only store anywhere even vaguely convenient would be the Whole Foods on Roosevelt. To which I was headed, until Michael enlightened me on the boycott that had just started, due to (then) CEO John Mackey writing a letter published in the Wall Street Journal, speaking out against universal healthcare for Americans. Oh crap. I am passionately against eating animals that have suffered, passionately in favor of universal healthcare, and passionately in love with bacon. Impasse. I knew I couldn’t in good conscience cross that picket line. We kept eating the Applegate Farms bacon. It was serviceable, and no pigs had suffered for my breakfast.
Then my foodie friend Rob told me about the Wooly Pigs stand at the UW Farmer’s Market, and the fatty Mangalitsa pork they sell. He showed me the bacon on their website. The very next day, Michael and I set off on a trek to the farmer’s market for bacon! But alas, it was summer. Not the season for fresh-made local bacon, and there was none in stock. We did come away with two uber-expensive pork chops that the proprietor seemed almost reluctant to sell us.
Then, I am ashamed to confess, I cracked. I snuck furtively into the Whole Foods and perused the bacon aisle. I at least wanted to know whether the Niman Ranch bacon was worth pining for. But I couldn’t find it anywhere. I asked the butcher, who said he’d just stopped carrying it. It just hadn’t been selling well enough, he explained, people are hesitant to buy new products…I slunk out of the Whole Foods, and up to the Central Market in Shoreline, where they did indeed carry Niman Ranch sausage, but not the bacon. Sigh. But the butcher in Shoreline said that he thought their Mill Creek store had the goods, and called up there to confirm it.
And thus did I find myself, in pouring rain on a gloomy Saturday afternoon, driving northward in search of bacon nirvana. The Mill Creek Central Market is a nice store, tucked into a mall of other high-end stores, catering to the well-to-do suburban set. I called Michael from the bacon aisle to report. “They’ve got it! Should I get the Pepper Bacon or the Applewood Smoked?” I left the store with two of each.
The next morning, we sat down to what was unequivocally the best bacon I have yet to eat. Thick sliced, chewy, salty, smoky, complex—this bacon was just right, and guilt-free to boot.
So I’m headed north on I-5 in the rain again today, but this time it’s not a downpour– just the usual Seattle misty drizzle. It’s time for another bacon run. Mill Creek is not convenient. It’s five or six miles north of where I live (which is already on the far northern fringes of civilization). But it’s a trek that either Michael or I make every couple of months now.
And really, it’s worth it.