Is it worth it to pay more for premium bacon? Is it actually better to have bacon from naturally-raised pigs that have walked about, scrounged around, oinked in piggy happiness? Or is there no difference and you might as well just save your money and buy the regular factory bacon?
My curiosity got the best of me and I bought 3 different kinds of bacon to try this week. I don’t eat a whole lot of bacon, but when I do, I want it to be the good stuff.
My 3 contenders this week were:
- Schneider’s Naturals bacon – factory pigs but all natural ingredients used in the bacon itself
- Beretta double-smoked bacon – naturally-raised pigs, organic (I think)
- Cumbrae’s double-smoked Berkshire bacon – naturally-raised, organic & local (to me here in Toronto) Berkshire pigs
That list is in ascending order of exclusivity. Schneiders you can get literally everywhere. It’s a mass-market item. Beretta is more limited-production, because of the source of meat, but you can find it in a few different supermarkets here and there. And Cumbrae’s has just 3 of its own butcher shops (2 in Toronto, 1 in Dundas).
Is that also the ascending order of bacony deliciousness?
Let’s talk about price first. Schneider’s Naturals comes in at around $6 for 500 grams (I think). Beretta was about $7 for about 350 grams, and Cumbrae’s was about $8 for 350 grams. These are approximate because I don’t have the packaging anymore, and when I bought them I was really only looking at the total cost and not the cost-per-weight.
That’s the pricing scale, and I’ve already told you that my assessment of bacony enjoyment doesn’t match that. So what gives?
Schneider’s Naturals bacon is a slightly better version of factory bacon, but it’s still factory bacon. The pigs from which this bacon comes are raised in cages and fed some kind of blended version of grains in a trough. They are the couch-potatoes of the pig world (although it’s true that we force them to be this way). The taste of the Schneider’s bacon reflects this forcibly un-piggy life. The bacon itself has very little flavor.
It smells great when I cook it, but when I eat it I have to admit that it’s bland. There’s really no flavor to it. It’s got some chew to it, and not in a good way – you kind of have to rip it apart or really grind it a bit with your molars. I don’t know what it is, but somehow the connective tissue is a little tough (and this is not a one-off thing, I’ve bought this product a few times before). So you end up with a fatty, bland, and slightly tough chew. It’s not a very satisfying experience.
The previous time I bought a pack of this stuff, about a half year or more ago, I thought to myself that it’s really not worth the calories. There’s not enough enjoyment in the eating to warrant eating all that uninteresting and, frankly, unhealthy fat. And I say unhealthy mainly because of the diet and lifestyle these pigs have had.
So Schneider’s comes in at the bottom. I really will not buy it again, and this time it’s because it just doesn’t compare to the higher-quality bacon. It’s not worth the money, the calories, or the time to make and eat it.
Beretta is fatty as well, but in a very different way that I think reflects the different life and diet that these pigs have led. The fat is creamy. In fact, the entire experience of this bacon in terms of mouthfeel is one of smooth creaminess. Where the Schneider’s was thin and insubstantial, the Beretta is smooth, substantial and very satisfying. It is also a very flavorful bacon. You get a strong hit of bacony goodness, and it’s one that lasts a good time and is a complex blend of flavors. In fact, with my first bite my first thought was “mmm… chestnut!”. I didn’t get that when I ate another round of the bacon 2 days later, so that’s all the more reason to eat this bacon fresh from the pack.
These pigs, being naturally raised, move around and exercise. They eat a variety of foods. They are pigs being pigs, not pigs being pork-fabricating machines in cages. The end result is a much more substantial and flavorful bacon.
The Beretta bacon was a revelation for me. It showed me that bacon can be something truly special and that the price premium for eating high-quality bacon from well-raised pigs is worth it.
So that then led me to try the Cumbrae’s bacon. This is a specialty butcher shop, so I was really curious to see how this bacon would stack up. I can’t say that I’m disappointed with the quality of the bacon, but I can say that it isn’t as good as the Beretta.
Why? Well, the Cumbrae’s bacon is very meaty. Where the Beretta is smooth, creamy fatty goodness, the Cumbrae bacon is like eating pork with some fat to it. Yeah, it’s pork belly, but I swear from the dense muscle tissue that these pigs must do ab work every day. The bacon is like eating from pigs that have six-pack abs.
If you want a nice meaty, porky cut of bacon – something akin to back bacon, for example – then this will be right up your alley. But if you want that fatty smoothness, this is not it.
There is good, natural pork flavor with the Cumbrae’s but it’s not the same big hit of flavor that the Beretta gives. That’s probably due in part to the leaner nature of the Cumbrae’s and in part due to the way it was smoked.
So, my ranking is as follows – this time from best to worst:
Are the premium bacons worth the extra price? Yes. The bacon tastes better, feels better, and I’m willing to bet is better in terms of the nutrition that you get. There’s such a difference in the fat itself. The Schneider’s is thin and insubstantial – like you’re just getting pure fat without anything else along with it. The Beretta is smooth and creamy, lasting and complex in taste – it’s like night and day. The Cumbrae’s is just melded into the meat. You can see it as a separate layer but when you eat it you aren’t aware of it.
Perhaps that’s the best way to put it. With the Schneider’s factory bacon, you are very aware of the fat because there’s nothing else to it other than liquid fattiness. With the Beretta you are aware of the fat only in terms of the creaminess that you feel as you chew the bacon. With the Cumbrae’s, it’s there and giving you some juiciness, but it’s not the star of the show – the meaty porkiness is.
So that means I’m never buying factory-pig bacon again.
What about the difference between the Beretta and Cumbrae’s?
This, I feel is a matter of preference. It’s not as clear cut about better or worse, it’s more about which you prefer. Beretta for creaminess and complexity of flavor. Cumbrae’s for meaty porkiness.
Personally, I’ll take the creamy texture and more complex flavor of the Beretta. After all, if I want meaty porkiness, I’d use a different cut of pork instead of bacon.
However, having said that, perhaps this is the thing: what are you going to do with the bacon? If you’re going to eat it straight, like I did, then I think the Beretta is a much better experience. It’s a richer, more enjoyable experience. If you’re going to dice it up and use it as part of your cooking, then perhaps the Cumbrae’s is your better bet because you’ll get more of that meatiness as the base for your sauce or dish.
In any case, this tale of 3 little pigs has been an interesting one for me. The factory pig loses out, as expected. The unknown breed but naturally-raised Beretta was a very pleasant surprise. The Berkshire Cumbrae’s is a freakin’ athlete, and I never knew bacon could be that solidly meaty.
So there you have it, my little story about 3 little pigs in the form of bacon.
If you’re a fan of bacon, try some of the good stuff sometime. I think you’ll have an equally interesting experience comparing them against the factory bacon you have eaten for years.
Until next time, continue to have fun out there and kick ass!