Recently we began asking for the jowls from our hogs when we source one. Originally, it was my idea to make my own guanciale, a cured Italian bacon made from pork jowls. Indeed, I’ve got one in the works right now, although it’s taking a while to cure because it’s in my garage refrigerator, and ideally cured meats need a temperature and humidity controlled environment in which to cure (and don’t think I’m not working on that).
At any rate, when we ordered our latest pig last month and requested the jowls, we were asked if we’d like it smoked and sliced into what is known as “poor man’s bacon.” Our answer was a resounding, “Hells to the yes!!”
Traditional bacon comes from the belly of the pig, and I’ve been sacrificing two pounds of smoked porky bliss from the last 3 hogs we’ve bought in order to have some uncured pork belly to cook, because I happen to believe that if anything were proof of a Divine Presence, it would be a well-made pork belly dish. Needless to say, the bacon we do get doesn’t last very long and to regularly purchase MSG- and nitrate-free pastured bacon from our butcher practically requires a second mortgage on our home ($10+ a pound – helloooo!). Hence, bacon has been relegated to a component of another dish as flavoring or an occasional treat with Sunday brunch.
So we basically jumped on the chance for 8 more pounds of bacon, and weren’t terribly particular about which part of the pig it came from.
But I care about what part of the pig it comes from now, because jowl bacon is freakin’ AWESOME. It’s fattier than belly bacon, yes, and if you’re squeamish about things like salivary glands (which pretty much look and taste like meat once they’ve been smoked) you might want to avoid it, but unlike the belly, a pig’s jowls get some work which makes the meat in them – and consequently, the bacon – extraordinarily flavorful. Nor does all of the fat in jowl bacon render out the way it does with belly bacon when cooked; a bit of it does, yes, but what stays is crisp and golden and delicious and melts in your mouth.
I’m getting all misty-eyed just thinking about it.
So far, the only drawbacks to it are the irregularly sized pieces (a very minor drawback, considering the taste of the stuff) and the fact that any leftovers in the refrigerator tend to disappear mysteriously, although I suspect 17-year-old boys have something to do with that.
So I’m lovin’ me some jowl bacon, and may have even more of the belly left uncured from our next pig.
(Rumor has it that Smithfield packages both a sliced and unsliced version of jowl bacon, and is available at some Walmart locations, especially in the South. Be forewarned, though – it contains nitrates as well as sugar.)
And if you are of the anti-bacon school of thought, I present you with this informative and accurate flow-chart:
Have a lovely weekend, y’all.