For as long as man has understood how to make bacon he has sought to individualise the bacon made. The most obvious flavour of bacon – salt – is its most obvious draw back. This would be especially so back in time when extra salt would be used just to be on the safe side. The easiest way to counteract the salt was to add sugar to the cure to give a sweet cure. This is the cure of choice here at The Blue Pig Company. It does not taste ” sweet ” but it tempers the saltiness a little. Some parts of the country took this a stage further and added things like treacle to the cure such as Suffolk ham. Some cures were developed even further and become more like pickles. They would include beer, brown sugar, vinegar as well as the curing mix which added a further preservative effect on top of more complex flavours.
The principle of extra preservation and extra flavour was something that was most popular and necessary in northern and western Europe with its damper climate and greater chance of food going off. In modern Britain this is seen with the continuing popularity in Scotland of smoked bacon. Originally this would simply have been hanging bacon in the chimney to help keep it longer. Then recesses would have been specially made to keep bacon. It would have been quickly obvious that smoke from different wood produced different flavours and so bacon took on another reflection of its locality. Oak has emerged as the most common in Britain and what could be more English than oak? We use it for our smoked bacon and the resident teenager describes it as making “a well good bacon sandwich”. European settlers in North America used the local timber and so Canadian Ham is smoked with their national emblem – Maple.
In the Mediterranean countries the dryer climates took cured meats in another direction the most famous being Parma ham. It also gave rise to things like Pancetta. This has as many recipes as people who make it which would include all the woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage as well as things like crushed juniper. Here we add crushed black pepper, garlic and nutmeg and it has as many uses as your imagination. I once suggested it was good on a game bird and brought a rather quizzical response from a “senior” customer who wanted to know “What are you suggesting young man?” So perhaps just stick it in your pasta sauces, soups, salads, stews or wrapped round a pheasant.