A Life of Excellence
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3 Little Pigs… as Bacon

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:

  1. Schneider’s Nat­u­rals bacon — fac­tory pigs but all nat­ural ingre­di­ents used in the bacon itself
  2. Beretta double-smoked bacon — naturally-raised pigs, organic (I think)
  3. 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?

Nope.

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:

  1. Beretta
  2. Cumbrae’s
  3. Schneider’s

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!

3 Comments to “3 Little Pigs… as Bacon”

  1. Cliff says:

    some pictuers of the bacons…will be nice :)

  2. Len says:

    Hmm… I’m going to be mak­ing another batch of Beretta and Cumbrae’s later today. Yeah, I’ll add in a photo to tease and tempt ya! ;)

  3. […] stash from the office refrig­er­a­tor. I had two par­tial packs of bacon left over from my bacon taste test­ing efforts this week, and I knew they wouldn’t last the week­end. I had to fin­ish them yes­ter­day or […]

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