Let me start by making something very clear. I love bacon. I have loved bacon since I was a tiny, clueless child with a pudding-bowl haircut, round red grandpa glasses and one friend named Sam who was probably imaginary. In fact, I loved bacon in the womb. I was actually the first person ever to love bacon. I invented bacon.
Some of that is actually true. Bacon and I have indeed had a long and tempestuous relationship, including a strange phase in my early tweens when I ate it for breakfast and dinner every day. And I did wear red glasses. But in the past my love for bacon, like my love for rubber cement and Ace of Base, always fell into the category of “guilty, obscene, unspeakable pleasure that would make me look like a revolting lard bag if anyone ever found out.” Back in the day, I would never have confessed my infatuation, because, let’s face it, bacon was not cool.
That was then. This is now.
Let’s take a little trendspotting jaunt, shall we? As of December, L.A. Times food blogger Noelle Carter has been compiling a list entitled “1001 Things to Do With Bacon,” which kicks off with the severely badass bacon martini. Time magazine just ran an article about desserts with bacon in them, very much on the rise in pompous restaurants — which brings me to Vosges, a chichi NYC-based chocolatier, which has been selling (and selling out of) their bacon chocolate bar for almost two years. And then there’s Archie McPhee, a non-snobby-but-clearly-bazonkers company based in Seattle, which now manufactures bacon jellybeans. And BaconTalk.com, a meat-flavored social networking site where carnivores around the world can come together and celebrate the joys of the eponymous yummy tummy — thereby proving that the Three Little Pigs are officially in grave danger, and should probably run (wee wee wee) somewhere freaking kosher, ASAP.
Case in point: Bacon is no longer the trademark of sweaty HungryMen and revolting lard bags. Strips of meat cooking in their own rendering fat are now sexy. Yeah, I said it. Bacon is hot.
I’ll admit, my first inclination was to go a little Gollum on the newfound Bacon Nation (MY precious). But on reflection, it occurred to me that this piggy fever is really a hallmark of an admirable and much-needed shift in food-world priorities.
Modern gastronomy has historically tipped toward the fussier side of the edibles spectrum. Foodie purists would probably define “good taste” as a penchant for fine cheese, fine wine and foie gras, while their radical counterparts champion uni, gnudi and fugu (which are all apparently too cool for the English language) — either way, you’d be hard-pressed to find many of those items in most parts of the country. But in the past few years, some of our most ambitious chefs have been turning their skillets homeward, building dishes out of friendlier and more familiar flavors. High-class establishments still serve up plenty of terrines and aiolis, but now they’re sharing menu space with haute tributes to grilled cheese, doughnuts and barbecue. The culinary sphere is finally giving credit where credit is due: to those hefty, homey tastes that everyone loves but would never dare to call gourmet.
Of course, there’s a big gap between notion and execution; in the hands of the maestros, some of our lowbrow favorites still turn out pretty unrecognizable. (That bacon martini, for instance, might have that meaty pungency, but what about the greasy crackle, or the fundamental punch of the crunch?) At the very least, though, bacon’s rising star indicates that the door is now open to a humbler brand of delicious. Strange as it might seem, we’re all one big step closer to being experts ourselves.
And on a purely personal note, it feels good to finally tell the world how I feel about bacon. Please forget what I said about Ace of Base.