Our doctor’s visits costs were covered with barters of bacon. My grandpa Big Jim Sullivan was an old timey hog man and always had a smokehouse filled with cured pork bellies and big hams.
Sometimes he traded these prized hams for platters of fried chicken from his buddy Colonel Sanders. The original Kentucky Fried Chicken sat 15 minutes from my grandparents farm where the Colonel was a frequent visitor. We’d sit around on Sunday afternoons listening to Mr Sanders turn the air blue over plates of country fried steak, Silver Queen corn and green beans cooked with hunks of cured hog meat.
The good colonel was an old salt meat lover.
For the last two years I’ve had a friendship with a pig farmer in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Steve, a big he-bear of a man, always keeps a couple hogs in the lot behind his house.
When I mentioned how good looking they are he replied “that’s ‘cause I treat them like my children right up ‘til the time I kill them”.
Spoken like an old-school hog farmer.
When we slaughter his pigs he gives me the bellies and I return half the meat 12 days later in the form of bacon.
It’s a good relationship.
A favored bacon memory is the time I chicken fried bacon, stuffed it into a double-cut pork chop and chicken fried the chop. The 450lb owner of the steakhouse where I worked looked at me tearfully and said “where have you been all my life?”
Over the past seven years I’ve written over 3100 articles on my Scrumptious Chef website, dozens of them about bacon. Yesterday I sliced a 13lb cured pork belly on a big Hobart carving machine. Prior to that, it had sat in the cure in my refrigerator for 10 days.
My bacon travels have carried me far afield to places like Budapest where I procured a kilo of Mangalitsa bacon from a Hungarian farmer and cooked it in my tiny rental apartment in Josef’s Town.
This past April I traveled to Amsterdam, Netherlands where I spent an afternoon in the company of Diny Schouten, the godmother of Dutch charcuterie. She kept a steady stream of cured meats and local beers coming while she explained her life as a butcher in the city of sin.
Last week I drove from my home in the 9th Ward of New Orleans to Madison, Alabama where I spent a morning with Henry Fudge, a legendary hog farmer who has given his life to breeding and raising Durocs, a much-prized heritage pig breed.
The belly I purchased from him will be coming out of the cure tomorrow.
Next week I’m visiting the Berea College Hog Farm in Berea, Kentucky where the pigs roam pastures eating native grasses and relaxing before they reach maturity and are led to slaughter.
I’m looking forward to buying a brace of range-raised pork jowls from the students so I can convert them into bacon in my kitchen in New Orleans.
When I’m not making bacon, visiting rural hog farmers or writing articles about cured meat, I content myself with researching my 500 Po Boys Project wherein I’m traveling around southern Louisiana eating our region’s signature sandwich and posting reviews on my finds. This is an extensive and ongoing survey (it takes a long time to eat 500 po boys).