- Depending on where you are in the world, you’ll find a different version of bacon.
- In England, your bacon will be a leaner but still juicy cut from the back of the pig and cured to perfection.
- We visited The Butts Farm in South Cerney, Gloucestershire, to see how bacon is made from the meat of Gloucestershire Old Spots.
- This is one of the oldest breeds in the UK and is renowned for having a tender, marbled meat – so what better way to taste it than in the form of bacon?
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Claudia Romeo: Depending on where you are in the world, you will find a different version of bacon. In the US, you’ll have a savory piece of pork belly that’s been cured and smoked. As an Italian, my go-to bacon is pancetta, dry-cured dices of pork belly. Here in England, your bacon will be a leaner, but still juicy cut of meat from the back of the pig cured to perfection. Today, we’re in South Cerney, Gloucestershire, and we are at The Butts Farm, a farm that specializes in rare breeds. What we’re going to see today is bacon made from Gloucestershire Old Spots. They’re one of the oldest breeds here in the UK, and they’re renowned for having a tender, marbled meat. So what better way to taste it than in the form of bacon?
Thank you. Hello, friend. Compared to more commercial pigs that feed on high protein and cereal, an Old Spot follows a low-protein diet, complemented with grass, worms, and whatever they can munch away at here at the farm.
Judy Hancox: The Gloucestershire Old Spots also have a lot of fat on them naturally. That’s good. You don’t have to eat the fat, but when you cook it, you’ve got the fat running through the meat, which gives you the flavor.
Claudia: All right.
Carl: This is what we’re gonna be working with.
Claudia: Yep. This section is cut from the top of the leg to the fourth rib and, on the other side, the first flat bone across the thigh and the leg. Carl pierces the skin a few times to allow the salt to get right into the center of the bacon. He tells me that the best bacon is one that is cured within the first week after slaughtering the pig. This is to avoid tough skin, which the curing would make even tougher and would take all the moisture out of the meat. Drawing most of the moisture out is, however, our way to go with our dry cure today. Carl uses fine sea salt, which he prefers as it gets right into the meat much quicker than coarse salt.
Carl: So you want to get all the cure mix into the center. With it not having the nitrates in, it does take that little bit longer to cure. You want the salt to have contact first, ’cause that will just give you the right way to cure.
Claudia: Oh, wow, that’s quite a lot of salt.
Carl: It is. So. [Claudia chuckles]
Claudia: So, how many kilos is that?
Carl: That’s 5. For this much, you’d probably only need 2, 2 1/2 kilos of salt. But it cures better if you just get that caked in salt.
Claudia: All right.
Carl: It doesn’t really absorb more of it. It just seals. Just get nice and covered. So, that provides the base of the cure. So that will instantly start drawing out the moisture, changing that product from pork into the bacon product.
Claudia: Carl leaves a little bit of salt for later in the curing process. After a few days, the meat will be repacked with salt to drain the excess moisture that has come out. The next ingredient to be added is unrefined brown sugar. Just like salt, sugar will draw out moisture, but it will also add a light sweetness to the meat and get rid of the sharpness of the salt. Just like salt, a bit of sugar is saved for later. The cure continues with pink and black peppercorns, bay leaves, and juniper berries. The berries will bring lightness and sweetness with the sugar to the edge of the bacon.
Carl: And lots of color, which is good. It’d be nice to have a big pestle and mortar.
Claudia: Yeah. So you’re just gonna crush them like this?
Carl: Yes, gently. Just to get some of the powder out of the peppercorns.
Carl: And the juniper berries are still, they’re still slightly wet, ’cause they’re a berry. As we break them, there’s just a little moisture still. It’s a little bit like making your gin and having the botanicals. [Claudia laughs] It is like that, you can pick savory and strong flavors in your botanicals. I’ve seen people do rosemary bacon and things like that.
Claudia: Oh! Mm.
Carl: Just trying to infuse different flavors in.
Claudia: Yeah, you can just personalize it, just a little bit. Carl: I think so. I mean, yeah, I wouldn’t want to see people experiment too –
Claudia: Too much.
Carl: Well, it’s up to them, I guess, if -but yeah, bay leaves act almost like it’s that stability for the flavor. So you just give them a little bit of a crush, because they’re fresh.
Claudia: Wow. Yeah, they’re a very nice green.
Carl: They’re not like the dry ones. You just give those a little rip. Nice having them grown
Claudia: Ooh, nice smell.
Carl: in the garden by one of our ladies in the office. I asked her for some bay leaves, she brought me half of her tree. So this is very good. [Claudia laughs]
Claudia: That looks fantastic already. After 14 days and after removing the bones, this is the end result of our curing process.
Carl: So, you’ve got the back bacon. And this is where it went from the shoulder. That’s where we came in from the leg. So, we generally take the back bacon off with a little tail. So a small amount of the streaky remains on the back bacon.
Carl: Just because that’s the shape we normally use. Plus it gives that little bit of fat to cook with.
Claudia: Yeah, for sure.
Carl: So you just separate that. Down like that. And that will give you your streaky in your back bacon.
Claudia: Ooh. Butchers refer to dry-cured, unsmoked bacon like this here as green bacon or green bac. This is nothing scary, and it’s completely natural. It’s just the salt slightly overcuring the edges of the bacon. A little trim, and our Gloucestershire Old Spots bacon is ready to be revealed.
Carl: If we then look at the center of the bacon, that’s when you’ve got that –
Claudia: Oh, nice.
Carl: Beautiful cure. Nice flavor going through.
Claudia: There’s a bit of marbling as well.
Carl: Yes. Well, you’ve got the really nice native breeds. And the finish is really good on Judy’s pigs. It just starts to build up just a little bit of fat in the muscle, which then for cooking makes it amazing.
Claudia: Wow. Yeah.
Carl: Just like it would a rib eye steak. The fat will always disintegrate first, because it reacts to heat and reduces. So it just breaks the meat into parts, so your bacon is then quite tender, which is quite a nice way to do things.
Claudia: And so that’s a speciality of Gloucestershire Old Spots.
Carl: Yeah, yeah, definitely.
Claudia: ‘Cause you can find that.
Carl: Yeah. Well, you get your pork chops and there’s not just fat on the outside, you’ve got actually a nice bit of taste and the flavor going through it, which is really good.
Claudia: Wow. OK.
Carl: So, yeah. So that’s our traditionally dry-cured nitrate-free bacon.
Claudia: So, my first question is, why did you put this in the oven rather than frying it?
Judy: Well, because it’s got so much of its own lovely fat, and we love fat around here. We love food around here, but we love fat as well.
Judy: Especially. You don’t need to fry it in oil or butter, and you wouldn’t even need to turn it over, which is why really suits cooking in the oven. [rooster crows] Especially me as a farmer, you know, the animals can get up to whatever, and, you know, I bang it in the oven, and I’ve got 20, 30 minutes to go and sort out any crisis that might be on the farm. And there you go, it’s ready without having to do anything.
Claudia: OK. And this is the most, like, traditional way around here too?
Judy: It is the most traditional way. The tradition is that you cook your bacon, you fry your eggs in the fat, and then you do your fried bread in the fat from the bacon. All right, so the bacon is the base for everything. Is the base for everything, exactly. And that is your traditional breakfast.
Claudia: All right, let’s have a taste then.
Judy: Oh, let’s have a go, shall we? How lovely.
Claudia: Just like that. So, why is it that back bacon is more popular in here?
Judy: I think really, probably because you’ve got more meat-to-fat ratio. Yeah? You know, you’ve got all that lovely eye muscle, it’s called, there. The eye muscle you can relate to a pork chop on maybe loin, and then the nice bit of crispy fat, but the –
Claudia: That’s great.
Judy: If you don’t love fat quite as much as I do, then maybe you have got a bit more meat there.
Claudia: Yeah, but I like the taste of the meat as well.
Judy: Exactly. Exactly.
Claudia: Yeah. And this is a great compromise between the two. I love it, yeah.
Judy: Yeah. I mean, it tastes of pork, doesn’t it? It shouts pork.
Judy: You know what you’re eating. And you’ll notice also that we’re eating the rind. It’s edible. And that’s just because it’s what’s called supple first, and it’s really just cured in a traditional way. And you can eat all of it.
Judy: Right? It’s not chewy.
Claudia: No, no, not at all. I just, I really like the fact that you can taste the fat, but there’s also a bit of that, as Carl was saying, a little bit of that juniper berries.
Judy: Oh, definitely. Yeah.
Claudia: So they add something to the taste. Yeah.
Judy: The one flavor complements the other. You’re not getting a dominant flavor there at all, are you?
Claudia: That’s lovely. Yeah.
Judy: Lovely, yeah. It’s really good, isn’t it? Really good. Yum. Josephine! It’s over here, darling. And this here is Dolly Pig. Princess Joan.
Claudia: Oh, she’s a princess.
Judy: That’s her title. Good boy, Joe. Come on. Come on, piggy wigs! He is such a poser. Oh, that’s it. Ecstasy. [Claudia laughing] This is a pig in ecstasy. Isn’t it so sweet? Just love ’em.