I'm just going to let that sit there for a moment: I like my bacon crispy.
To say I 'like' bacon is more than an understatement. I have friends who send me news of every bacon related product they run across, like bacon deodorant, bacon air freshener and candy shaped like precooked bacon. I once was a team captain in a contest and we were supposed to give our teams color names. My team? Team Bacon, no joke.
So when I got the opportunity to go to the Tenth Anniversary edition of Baconfest, I was in...Well, you know.
Let's start with the bacon itself. Neuske's Applewood Smoked Meats sponsors Baconfest and provides all the bacon. How much bacon? Four tons of it for all three sessions, each with varying menus, so none of the sessions was the same. While I'd love to say that I was able to try every sample there was to be had, even I couldn't get it done (at least in the allotted time and still be able to walk upright).
I'll share some of my standouts because really, how can you choose a favorite when it comes to bacon?
Promiscuous Pork Belly from Cooking Skills Academy
Described as a "Ménage à trois of pork", this was braised for 48 hours, then fried in the fat from the braising process and that fat was used to make a bacon dressing for the dish. "3 ways, hence promiscuous pork belly." Put on a skewer, presented on red brick and garnished with greens and the dressing when plated. Surprisingly delicate and as you might expect, very flavorful.
Mini Maple Caramel Bacon Pecan Bars from Stan's Donuts & Coffee
I'd tell you what's in this, but the name almost says it all, but not quite. It had "...All the food groups in one donut on top a throne of buttermilk cake." A veritable "nugget of paradise." I may or may not have had more than one of these, but I'm not saying anything other than yum.
Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends from BBQ Supply Co
Oh my Goodness! Sliced, smoked pork belly burnt ends skewered with a peach with vanilla sweet pea broth and covered with a sriracha mustard glaze. All those flavors, balanced perfectly. If I could only have surreptitiously made away with one of those chafing dishes I might have shared, but more likely I would have been in the corner protecting my stash.
Bourbon Bacon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup from Burton's Maplewood Farm
Owner Tim Burton (no, not the Hollywood director) told me it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. He teamed with Neuske's to add bacon and barrel ages the syrup for a year to take it "...beyond the pancake".
Burton's even has their samples in a tray reminiscent of a Communion service set and when I mentioned that, the person working the booth replied "It's a holy experience". Not far off at all. Let me put it to you this way, my friend and the photographer with me was taking home a souvenir from Baconfest. The souvenir he chose? A bottle of Burton's.
More of my standouts:
- Pancakes-n-Bacon Milkshake from Edzo's' Burger (They're made with "ginormous pancakes")
- Spicy Pork Meatballs from Bar Roma
- Piggymisu from Farmhouse Chicago
- Cuban Pig from Velvet Taco
- Moody Reuben from Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel
- Hog Wild Caramel Popcorn Mix by Candyality
- Maple Chili Bacon Cruller from Miss Ricky's
And of course, what fest would be complete without a variety of libations:
- Bloody Mary's with Ceres Vodka and CBC Bacon Bloody Mary Mix
- Glenfiddich 12yr, 14yr and IPA Scotch Whisky
- Big Shoulder Coffee
- Old Forester
...Just to name a few.
And saving one of the best things for last, for eight of the past ten years the Greater Chicago Food Depository has been a beneficiary of Baconfest. Coming into the 2018 fest, a total of $400,000 had been raised, which translates to 1.2 million meals for those struggling with hunger in the Chicago area. A wonderful benefit of a truly amazing fest.
Judging from this year's showing, I think it's safe to say Baconfest goes to 11.
All Photos credit Doug White of Doug White Photography