Trader Joe’s Uncured Black Forest Bacon
The packaging is impressive, and definitely carries with it a “Rustic” feel. At least, it does to me. It intrigued me, and I’ve been eyeing it for a few weeks. So I finally took the plunge, so to speak, and picked up one package of it. I generally like the flavoring of the “Black Forest” branded hams and pork products. There aren’t many which use Paleo acceptable ingredients, so it’s been some time since I’ve had any. But this is a great looking product, and except for the serving size (small serving sizes indicate hidden sugar!!) I was quite impressed with how it looked overall. I was, no surprise, quite excited to give this a try!
Opening The Package:
After cutting it open, I smelled it. I always take a moment to smell the bacon first, giving my nose some time to get used to the flavor of the bacon before it starts to cook. I think it’s a useful way to get myself in the mode of the bacon – no, not the mood; I am always in the mood! It smelled peppery, and had an earthy undertone. The coloring of the bacon could have something to do with what I thought I was smelling – the coloring is strikingly different from what you might expect of any other bacon. The dark colors bleeding in from the outside of the slab of bacon are more reminiscent of a smoked cheese than a cured meat product. Of course, despite that it is most certainly a cured meat product, the FDA, as we learned some time ago from our friends at Vermont Smoke And Cure, have decreed that cured meat products which are not cured using commercial curing salts must be called “Uncured”. And since this bacon uses Celery for the naturally occurring nitrates, this is required to be labeled as “Uncured”. Silly? Yes.
As I started to take the pieces of bacon apart, I noticed that they had been sliced quite thin. Recalling that the package suggests 1-slice of bacon as a serving size, this just served as a reminder as to how much sugar must have been used in the processing of this bacon. Remember the rules of bacon: a manufacturer may put “0g” for carbohydrates, provided the serving size is small enough that the actual amount of carbs in that serving are less than 1. Of course, the sugar must still be on the ingredients, but it doesn’t have to be included in the Nutrition Facts as long as there is less than 1 gram per serving. So for 13 slices of this bacon in the package, I would estimate that there is more than 12 grams of sugar used in that bacon. This is fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Even a person on a Ketogenic diet can afford 6 grams of sugar accounting for their half of the package. But it’s important to keep track of!
I cooked this slow, taking about 20 minutes of total cook time. When I do my Bacon Project bacon, I often cook the meat slowly, giving the bacon plenty of time to reach my perfectly cook state, and plenty of time for me to notice that it’s there. This cooked quickly, as I expected given how thin the slices are. I would keep this in mind if I were going to cook this on a griddle – it will cook fast. The cooking smell was quite unique for bacon – it smelled like some of the korean barbeque sauces that I’ve had. Kind of a combination of sweet and peppery. It was a pleasant smell, and my wife and I both enjoyed the aroma.
The smell and the taste didn’t match up at all! It had the hint of sweetness that you may have expected from the smell of the cooking, but there was no pepper in sight! At least, not the spicy kind that the smell hinted at. That was OK though – the well-spiced version of bacon was delightful. The flavors of the spiced, smoked meat danced around our palates in a way that we truly have not experienced before. As the Vermont Smoke And Cure was the smoke in smoked meat, this was the cured in cured meat. The flavors of the “Black Forest” were excellent, and I look forward to having more of it!
Here is where things get interesting. One of the ways that I keep an eye on my bacon (pun definitely intended!) is by watching the change in color as the bacon cooks. Usually, the bacon starts out with a ruddy orange coloring, with just a bit of the bright red in the center of the meaty portions. Then, as the bacon cooks it gets darker, and you can pull it out when it reaches the optimal color. This bacon, on the other hand, starts out so dark that coloring in the meat is deceiving during the cooking process. You have to be careful with this bacon to make sure that you don’t overcook it.
I’ve mentioned that I am quite careful with my Bacon Project bacon, and I cook it on relatively low heat to make sure that I don’t miss that “Just Right” moment. With this bacon, I had to add another dimension: I stirred the bacon frequently as it got closer to my “Just Right” level, and instead of paying attention to the color, I had to pay attention to how firm the bacon was while I was stirring it.
Serves and plated: the bacon is a very interesting departure from normal bacon. As you can see in the picture, it is quite dark, and looks overcooked. That turned out to be just fine, however, as you noted what my thoughts were on the taste. As long as you give the extra cook time, and pay close attention to how much you want it to harden before you take it off the heat, you will likely end up with a very pleasing result!
For more thoughts on Bacon, and further Bacon Project posts, keep an eye out for Urban Paleo Chef posts! Also, comment in with thoughts, suggestions, and questions for all things Bacon related!
The critique over with, here is what I use as a base for evaluation of my bacon.
- √ No nitrates or nitrites added (except those occurring in sea salt and celery)
- √ Minimal processing, no artificial ingredients
- √ Pork raised without antibiotics
- Sustainable farm raised
This one gets a check-mark for the first three categories. I did my research on the fourth category, and I can’t find information on Trader Joe’s website about where this bacon is sourced from, and so I don’t know if these pigs are sustainable pigs, or if they’re raised in something closer to CAFO style setups. I like Trader Joe’s, and I generally approve of their organic products. But “Conventional” is conventional, and this package does not promise anything but. My guess is that these pigs are raised in something closer to CAFO style setups, and are not anything approaching “Pastured” or “Sustainable”. It’s good bacon, but because of the sourcing issue, I will only resort to it in a pinch.