Heather Lauer offers us her take on her blog, her book, and the best and worst of bacon.
Heather Lauer is author of Bacon: A Love Story, and has been blogging about the “best meat ever” at BaconUnwrapped.com since 2005. She owns digital marketing communications firm, Villageous, and is currently based in Phoenix, AZ. Learn more about Heather, and how she became a bacon connoisseur, here. Buy Heather’s book at Amazon.com.
ND: Bacon. We all love it – but you love it more. How did Bacon Unwrapped come to be, and what’s kept you going for five years?
HL: I was out with my brothers having a few drinks one night a few years ago, and somehow we got on the topic of bacon – talking about how it’s the best meat ever and doesn’t get enough respect. The result of that spirited conversation was the idea for a blog about bacon, and in the sober light of day a few weeks later, I still thought it was a good idea. BaconUnwrapped.com was born! The book project came along about a year and a half after the blog started and was originally released in mid-2009.
There are a few reasons I’ve been able to keep it going for over five years. Most importantly, bacon is simply delicious and there are an unlimited number of ways to explore it. It’s such a versatile meat, and it can truly make almost anything taste better. But beyond that, it’s just a fun topic. Most people whose lives are touched by bacon – hog producers, curers, chefs who cook religiously with bacon, consumers – their love of bacon is serious but most people have a sense of humor about it. The people of the Bacon Nation who I’ve met over the last five years – and their endlessly entertaining stories – are really what have kept me going for five plus years.
ND: The book – Bacon: A Love Story. Currently, on Amazon.com, it’s ranked #11 in books about ‘meat.’ What went into writing it, and why is it a must-read for all of us bacon-lovers out there?
HL: Well first and foremost, the amount of bacon I sampled during the process of writing the book was pretty impressive, and 1.5 years later, I’m still working towards recovery. But rather than 200 pages of me blabbing random thoughts on bacon, the book is about the stories of the Bacon Nation – all those people I previously mentioned whose lives are touched by bacon in one way or another. I conducted about 50 interviews for the book all across the country. I talked to well-known chefs; bacon curers in rural Kentucky; hog farmers in the mid-west; street-vendors; participants in internet chat forums about bacon; and even some vegetarians, among many, many others. And every single person graciously spent time with me sharing their stories about bacon, a lot of which were incredibly funny. And even when I was burning the midnight oil to meet an editorial deadline, I was still inspired by the stories I was able to share. So that’s why you should read the book. There are millions of us around the world who are united in our love for bacon, and if you are one of those people, then you will likely relate to – and be entertained by – the bacon love stories I tell in the book.
ND: What was your most interesting experience while writing Bacon?
HL: The time I spent in western Kentucky was particularly memorable. I spent about four days traveling from small town to small town interviewing bacon producers. Most of the operations I visited were family-owned businesses that have been handed down over several generations. Many of those operations still operate out of small brick buildings in a backyard. I was welcomed into so many homes and smokehouses and there was no rushing of the interview with those folks – every single one of them spent multiple hours telling me their family stories and showing me all the steps they go through to produce bacon. One woman – who I had never met before except over email – instantly embraced me and before we could even begin the smokehouse tour, she insisted that I join her for lunch with her 90-something mother to celebrate her birthday. So we hopped in the car and drove down to Kentucky Fried Chicken (not joking), stopped by the grocery store to get a cake and then headed over to mom’s house. All along I’m trying to figure out when and how I’m going to get the interview done because I had to be somewhere else that evening, but once we sat down to lunch, it became very clear to me how important that process of meeting her family and dining with them was to the story I would eventually tell about their bacon. All of those personal experiences I had with people while writing the book were definitely the most rewarding thing about the process.
ND: What does it really mean to be a bacon connoisseur?
HL: Eating lots and lots and lots of bacon! If you haven’t sampled a wide range of bacon varieties, I don’t know how you could possibly call yourself a bacon connoisseur. If your only experience is with pre-packaged bacon off the grocery store shelf, then you are definitely not a bacon connoisseur – and you’ve probably never had really good bacon. Whether you source your bacon from a local butcher or order artisanal bacon over the internet or even try making your own bacon, a true bacon connoisseur has sampled enough bacon in their lifetime that it’s probably hard to name just one favorite bacon.
ND: What’s your favorite bacon recipe?
HL: I really don’t have one favorite bacon recipe because there are so many kinds of bacon and there are so many ways to use it. So I usually answer this question by saying how I most frequently eat bacon. And like most people, it’s usually at breakfast and it’s usually just as a few single standalone strips. The best bacon can stand on its own as a culinary delight. Beyond that, I make breakfast burritos and BLT sandwiches quite frequently which are obviously good, commonly known ways to enjoy bacon. Another recipe I encountered over the last few years was for bacon wrapped tater tots, and that has definitely become a favorite of my family and friends.
ND: What is the best use of bacon in cooking, or otherwise, that you’ve come across?
HL: I recently had a maple bacon crème brulee from a street vendor in Phoenix that was out of this world. He puts the crème brulee in a little tin foil cup, and then tops it with sugar and maple bacon which he torches right in front of you so that you’re eating it fresh on the spot. The refreshing, creamy custard is still cool but the sweet caramelized bacon on top is the perfect balance of crispy and chewy. Just talking about it makes me happy.
ND: The worst (ab)use of bacon?
HL: A lot of people are experimenting with bacon infused liquor these days. While I obviously support the concept and applaud their efforts, I have yet to try a bacon vodka or bacon whisky that I can honestly say I enjoyed. One of my problems is that I don’t like Bloody Marys, which is probably the most successful way to use bacon infused vodka in a cocktail. With that said, I’m generally okay with the taste of bacon in cocktails – Torani makes a bacon-flavored syrup that when used in moderation in a mixture of whisky and butterscotch schnapps is really delicious. But the bacon infused beverage industry is definitely still in its infancy.
ND: Any new pork-related projects on the horizon?
HL: Not at the moment. I’m honestly still recovering from the process of writing the book – while it was fun, it was definitely a lot of work. So, I’m just trying to sit back and enjoy riding the bacon wave for now. ◊