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From Beer to Bacon

 

 

Burlington, Vermont was our final much-anticipated destination on our 2-week road trip. We had started our journey, 10 days prior, with an aspiration to try every beer and brewery along the way.  It only took about 3 days to remember that in truth we only drink about 2 pints of beer a month!  We took advantage of our time in Quebec drinking cider and ice wine to refresh our taste buds and ready our palates for Burlington’s breweries.  The bacon comes later.

 

Arriving in the early afternoon from Quebec City with a quick stop at Jean Talon Market in Montreal, Canada; we were thirsty.  Our conveniently located Airbnb had us within a few blocks of the pedestrian thoroughfare of Church Street Market.  We stumbled into Leunig’s which as well as being a bistro and one of the oldest establishments in Burlington, it also had a quite obvious marble-topped bar, our destination.  We sampled a couple local beers but I mostly spent the time quizzing the bartender about the availability and location of the most famously desired beer of the area called Heady Topper from The Alchemist Brewery.

Heady Topper

My quest took us to City Market Onion River Co-op.  They send us onward to another small grocery and then to a package store.  No one had it.  Sold out.  This did not make me happy.  Somehow, we ended back at Leunig’s and lo and behold, the guy next to us at the bar was drinking a can of it.  It was serendipitous that it was unavailable for large-scale purchase as after tasting our own can I pronounced that I didn’t like it!  I repeat “can” as it is clearly stated on the can that it is to be drunk from the can–pouring into a glass changes it and not for the better.  Funnily enough, we had organized our route, ending in Burlington, without having to pass back through Canada, specifically to be able to bring back cases of the stuff without the alcohol limitations at the border.  I remind you of the crazy book I read that started the whole beer tour idea from my blog post More to Maine than Moose.  Heady Topper was the feature of a large section of the book.  Like they say, “don’t believe everything you read”.

It had only taken 10 days (ha! ha!) for me to discover that I am actually a fan of West Coast (California) style beers.  New England beers lean towards a cloudier, more sour style of brewing.  My son who brews opines that cloudy is a sign of a lazy brewer.  Whatever the case, be it a regional taste or laziness, it didn’t stop us from having the fun of sampling.  The following are a few of the brews and breweries that we tried and liked:

Foam Brewers

Sip of Sunshine

 

This tasty brew, probably our favorite, was enjoyed overlooking the millstream in Middlebury, famous to me as the location of my first IPA many years ago while doing an Immersion Portuguese course at Middlebury College.

 

Bernie Weisse (gotta love the name whether commiserating or celebrating) at Zero Gravity Brewery

Our informative bartender at Leunig’s reminded us of the Burlington Farmers Market, also walking distance from our Airbnb.  If I haven’t mentioned it before, markets are my favorite places, indeed, more than breweries in case you were thinking that!  The market coincided nicely with the end of our trip and my “saudade” for the Hammock.  Saudade is a Portuguese word most easily translated to “longing”.  Easily doesn’t necessarily mean all encompassing but it works in this situation.  Enough of the road, I was ready to get back to my own kitchens both indoor and outdoor.  The market held more than enough inspiration.  I might even dust off my old guitar.

Burlington, Vermont Farmers Market

I had already bought black currant liqueur in Quebec so it wasn’t a challenge to have a Kir Royale when we got back.  It has rained a little too frequently during our Hammock summer evenings for me to bake in our wood-fired pizza oven but those rainy hours were perfect for making Maple Cutout Cookies and finally getting to that bacon I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  I guess I should let you know that there is Maple Syrup in the curing of the belly pork for my bacon recipe.  I wish that I could say I have been practicing my guitar chords, but not yet.  Hey, a girl has to put in a few hours of paid work now and then.

Maple Cutout Cookies

The cutout part of the recipe is my BFF Deborah’s Old-fashioned Sugar Cookie Recipe.  I added the Maple flavoring to the dough and icing as my nod to Canada’s and Vermont’s Maple products.  Before you worry that you don’t have the real deal Maple Syrup I am going to share my mother’s secret.  It is what I use whenever I need Maple Syrup unless I have been gifted a jug of the authentic stuff from one of my sisters.  Or brought back 2 quarts of it purchased at the Burlington Farmers Market as my son and his wife did on their visit following ours.  Don’t try other brands, they will disappoint, this one will not.

Crescent Mapleine Imitiation Maple Flavoring

Crescent Mapleine Imitation Maple Flavoring 2oz Bottle (Pack of 3)

Old-fashioned Sugar Cookie recipe with added maple flavoring

Sift together into a mixing bowl:

3 Cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Cup sugar

Cut in:

1 Cup margarine or butter.

Add:

1 slightly beaten egg
3 Tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon Mapleine flavoring

Chill dough.  Roll out on a floured surface to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into desired shapes.  Makes 4-5 dozen maple leaf cookies.  Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 5-8 minutes.  Cool on a rack.

Icing:

1/2 Cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon Mapeleine flavoring
3-4 Tablespoons cream or milk

If you want to make more of an Autumn statement you could certainly color the icing with red and yellow food coloring.

What’s smokin’?  Bacon!

 

 

You know that rain that I mentioned?  It doesn’t affect an old-fashioned smoker as long as you have someone clever around to rig up a smoker umbrella.

 

 

 

I have jumped ahead of myself as the smoking is the final step in homemade awe-inspiring bacon.  The idea first came to us from my brother-in-law.  Other than smoked trout I feel that this is the best-smoked idea he has shared.  Smoked trout is pretty amazing but I do not believe it would lend itself especially well to maple syrup and that is the direction this post has been taking with my espresso maple bacon being the grand finale.  Curing belly pork can be as simple as rubbing salt and sugar into it and leaving it for 3 to 10 days, rinse, dry overnight, smoke for 4 to 5 hours.  This is better.

Espresso Maple Syrup Cured and Smoked Bacon

Start off with the best pork belly that you can find.  Some are fatty, some have the rind still attached.  Some are more expensive than others.  We have seen it at Sam’s Club, Asian markets, Latin markets and at Costco.  We have purchased it in 3 of those locations.  The least expensive, leanest with no rind was from our Jacksonville Costco.

Pork Bellies seem to weigh on average 8 pounds.  After smoking you end up with a little over 6 and a half pounds of bacon.  We slice and freeze it in 5 to 6 rashers to a package ready to use for the two of us or for most recipes where it calls for bacon as an ingredient–Caesar Salad, bacon biscuits, bacon quiche to name a few.

Ingredients

8 pounds pork belly, rind trimmed
3/4 Cup sea salt (not iodized table salt)
1 Tablespoon coarsely ground black peppercorns
6 Tablespoon brewed espresso coffee
3/4 Cup maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Cut your pork belly into 2 to 3 pieces to fit in a large glass baking dish.
  2. Place the pork belly in the dish and coat it all over with the espresso and maple syrup mixture.  DO NOT POUR OFF EXCESS.
  3. Press the salt and pepper mixture into every part of the pork belly.
  4. Place the dish in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap for 5 to 10 days until the meat feels firm.  I like 7 days for the best flavor.  The longer you leave it in the cure, the saltier it will get.  Turn it over daily.
  5. After your 7 days or whatever amount suits your schedule, rinse the salt mixture off carefully.  Pat the bacon dry and set it on a rack over a tray.  Allow the bacon to air dry overnight uncovered in the refrigerator.
  6. Get your smoker set up.  We like to add soaked applewood chips to the hot coals before placing the green bacon on the racks.  You could also use hickory chips  If smoking the full 8 pounds we found that we needed both racks.  Ideally, you will be smoking at 175 degrees for about 3 to 4 hours or until the internal temperature is at 150 degrees.
  7. The meat will look cooked a bit on the outside but not all the way.

8. Allow the bacon to cool to room temperature on a wire rack over a baking sheet.  Once cool, wrap it in parchment paper then refrigerate it overnight to set the flavor and texture.

 

9. Slice it with a long sharp knife.  It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week or in the freezer for several months.  I predict that you, like us will never buy bacon again.

Even babies like bacon.  This video was shared by my nephew Matt on Facebook today.  Pretty timely.

 

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