DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
There's nothing quite like it: the salty, sweet, smoky smell of bacon frying in a pan. It is a smell so seductive, it can vex even the vegetarians and kosher keepers among us. It's a smell that regularly wafts through the home of our culinary curator, John T. Edge.
John T., it's been awhile since we checked in with you, but I understand this past year you've been living high on the hog, shall I say.
JOHN T. EDGE: Actually, it would be low on the hog because we're talking pork belly, we're talking bacon. Last Christmas, my father gave me the Bacon of the Month Club and for the past 12 months each and every month a package of smoked and cured pork has showed up at my doorstep.
ELLIOTT: Tell me, first of all how, is this different, the stuff that's delivered to your door, from what I might, say, pick up at the grocery store?
EDGE: Well, there are two kinds of bacon: country bacon and artisan-made bacon. Old line bacon is a pork belly that's taken off the kind of pendulous part of the pig that hangs down. It's salted and then smoked.
When you salt it, it pulls out moisture. It concentrates the flavor, the kind of piggy essence of that pork. A lot of grocery store bacon, not all, but a lot of grocery store bacon, the inverse happens. People take the belly and inject it with a saline solution, which plumps it up and does not concentrate the flavor, but dilutes the flavor. And for someone who's making that kind of bacon, a producer that's making that kind of bacon, it's a great economic bonus because you're selling salt water to people instead of pig.
ELLIOTT: So what's the difference in what I taste?
EDGE: It's more - I don't know, how would I put this? More primal tasting. There's an earthiness to this kind of bacon - it's smokier, it's meatier, it tastes more like the sweet, sweet essence of pig.
ELLIOTT: Now, tell me a little bit more about this Bacon of the Month Club. You say this was a gift?
EDGE: It was. My father gave it to me and I can't say it was my father's idea. I kind of suggested it might be a good present. I met Dan Phillips, curator of Bacon of the Month Club - I'm your culinary curator who's everyone's bacon curator. And anyone who prefers to be called Captain Bacon could possibly be a friend of mine and also could possibly serve up a product I wanted to try.
ELLIOTT: Well, we are going to try to find Captain Bacon, to get him in on our conversation. Let's see if we can get him on the line. Hello there, Mr. Phillips?
Mr. DAN PHILLIPS (Bacon of the Month Club): Yes, hi.
Mr. PHILLIPS: How are you?
ELLIOTT: Or should I call you Captain Bacon?
Mr. PHILLIPS: Yeah, I'm actually not wearing my Captain Bacon disguise, so you might ruin my identity, but because your listeners can't see me, I think that's okay.
ELLIOTT: Okay, good. So tell me a little bit about how you find these special bacons that you put in your Bacon of the Month Club.
Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, that's the - that's the secret ingredient of the club, how, you know, I ultimately accumulate over 100 different bacons during the year and then I'll have a big fry up at home and sit down with a pad and paper and actually taste each one of them, and then make the final selection for our club each year. But I look for the ones that are truly expressive and the best.
ELLIOTT: When you say truly expressive, I mean what are the flavors that you think stand out when you're looking for one of these bacons?
Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, one of the bacon producers said something that I thought was very profound to me. He said, the smokehouse is the man, because that was the question I asked him. What makes each bacon different? I mean, you know, because every bacon's like a thumbprint. When you line them up, even though they come from the same part of the pig and are made in essentially the same technique, every one of them looks different. But some of the farmers have smokehouses that have gone down from generation to generation and others of them are newly built. And that has an the influence on how the bacon turns out.
ELLIOTT: So these are traditional farmers with family recipes. You're not talking about some yuppie food dabblers here.
Mr. PHILLIPS: I'd say that would be accurate.
ELLIOTT: Well, we thank you for talking with us, Captain Bacon. I understand you're there at the airport and have to run, but we appreciate your time.
Mr. PHILLIPS: My pleasure, thank you very much for calling.
ELLIOTT: So John T., this is the man who finds the bacon that you've been enjoying.
EDGE: This is the man who is the son of an Orthodox Jew who finds the bacon that I've been enjoying.
EDGE: Indeed, it is. Bacon is a complex subject.
ELLIOTT: And John T., after this year of tasting the Bacon of the Month Club, what would you say is your favorite?
EDGE: Nodine's Garlic Stuffed Bacon from, believe it or not, Connecticut. I love this stuff. In each little rasher of bacon, which is the British term for a slice, and I like that - I like that term a lot. In each rasher are embedded two hunks of garlic. And so when it's sliced thin, you get these little wafer-thin pieces of garlic embedded within each strip of bacon. In the heat of the summer, when the tomatoes are coming in juicy and red ripe, the combination of bacon, garlic and tomato, a little lettuce, a little bit of homemade mayonnaise - it's perfect.
ELLIOTT: John T. Edge is the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi. And thank you also to Captain Bacon, known to his family as Dan Phillips. Talk to you soon, John T.
EDGE: Looking forward to it, Debbie.
ELLIOTT: If you go to our Web site, npr.org, you'll find John T.'s list of the weirdest, most delicious bacon preparations he's ever come across, including bacon baklava. And for the truly adventurous among you, there's even a recipe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
The bacon of the month club brings a different gourmet smoked pork to your door each month. The artisinal bacons were all tried and tested by John T. Edge of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
There's nothing quite like the salty, sweet, smoky smell of bacon frying in a pan. The smell is so seductive that it can vex even the vegetarians and kosher-keepers among us.
And imagine how much better it will smell if each month brings home a new artisanal bacon. John T. Edge, our culinary curator, tells how his life has changed since joining the Bacon of the Month Club, which sends a different bacon each month, along with recipes and toys, from a bacon T-shirt to a rubber pig nose. And club poobah Captain Bacon tells how he tracks down all those gourmet bacons.