Baconfest Michigan: My Recap

It’s been a while since I wrote about meats and food, so it would take a rare event to break me out of a moderate lull. Luckily, that event arrived this past weekend: Baconfest Michigan. The samplings, drinks, creativity and ambience were too much for me to remain silent.

My friends and I bought VIP tickets and arrived about 10 minutes to start time. The general admission line stretched to about twice the size of the VIP line. Organizers were very good in handing out the VIP passes and wristbands while we waited in line. Once the doors opened it took a comparatively normal time to enter the building compared to other general admission festival type events I’ve attended.

But enough with logistics, this event was purely about the food. I had scouted out the website beforehand to know what items I specifically wanted to try (Side note: Because this was the first such event in Michigan, I wasn’t sure if vendors would run out of certain items or specific vendors would only remain for a specific amount of time so I knew the things I wanted first).

I first spotted Cork Wine Pub who advertised a pork belly slider with pickled red onions, bacon jam, and grainy mustard on a pretzel roll. I enjoyed it a lot, but I had a few critiques: the pretzel roll didn’t have the unique pretzel taste and the mustard took away a slight amount from the pork belly.

After the first taste, however, people (myself included) tend to get excited about all the options in front of them. Despite lines outside, most of the tables had yet to develop any semblance of lines. Instead of the marathon we planned for we sprinted through a lot of food. For the first half 45 minutes any food waiting on the table met my stomach.

Some of the early highlights: Green Lantern’s bacon. The pizza, which they’re known for didn’t excite me much, but their glazed piece of bacon on the side was the best actual piece of freestanding bacon in the venue. Lockhart’s had unique bacon lollipops (figs stuffed with bleu cheese, wrapped in bacon) that if you’re a fan of bleu cheeses did the trick.

Union Woodshop Pork Belly, Mac & Cheese, Cookie. I ate some before the picture because you can’t just look at food and not eat it.

To round out the first 45, however, I had two of the best samples I had the entire night. First, came the Union Woodshop Mac & Cheese, pork belly and cookie serving. The Pork Belly reigned supreme, practically melting in my mouth. Next, came Treat Dreams. The person serving up the ice cream suggested trying The Sunday Breakfast (vanilla swirled with maple syrup, waffles and bacon). It reminded me how awesome and unique ice cream can be.  The two stops practically slowed down time and helped me get back to a marathon mindset.

And that’s when we discovered the beer vendors for the evening. I was a little skeptical for no real reason about the drink selection. I figured it’d be pretty basic, so when I spotted the Kuhnhenn Brewing sign I shed a tear of joy (I really just texted a friend who shares similar joy in their brewing to make him jealous, but same thing). Kuhnhenn has some of the most unusual beers I’ve tasted and have become one of my favorite breweries ever since discovering them at The Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, Wisconsin. I went with their award-winning Double Rice IPA (DRIPA), which balanced the type of food available wonderfully at the start.

From there, it seemed about time to scout out the VIP section. There were only two VIP vendors (Forest Grill and MGM) and a nice lounge area, less busy bar to order drinks at, but a few more VIP specific food vendors may have been nice.

I went right for the Forest Grill sample. It was in some ways the perfect corn dog. An incredible bacon sausage covered by a warm pretzel roll. The pretzel roll tasted like it should and the sausage tasted so unique to me I felt compelled to speak with Brian Polcyn about it. Know his charcuterie history I was slightly intimidated. He was great though, explaining the bacon sausage and how it was put together, definitely a highlight.

After a bit of a break I headed to the MGM stand. I was a little disappointed in their sample to be honest. The Faygo root beer pork belly was very good on its own, but the corn cake and other additions didn’t really do it for me. Around that time I was thrilled to be covered by a tent as storms quickly passed through, but I think it added to the experience.

Overall I’d say (especially for a first year event) it was fantastic. I gained five pounds in the four hours, but that’s what I signed up for. The VIP gift bag I think would’ve been better served with a hat or shirt instead of poster, but that’s nitpicking. I think a bacon information station about where some of the bacon comes from, where the local places get their pigs, preparing bacon and so on would’ve been interesting. Maybe bring in some famous bacon people from around the world (not Kevin). I know a lot of people got turned away, but I thought 1,200 people seemed like a perfect amount. While bar lines and some others got long, there was never a feeling of being too cramped. If they increased it to 1,500 it may be too many people in the end.

I tried approximately 30-33 different places in the end and that the perfect amount. The moment you stop enjoying the food because you’re full does a disservice to the vendors.

I have a feeling next year will sell out a lot faster and I will make sure to be in attendance once again for what I can only imagine a great event getting better.

Other highlights and unique tasting:

Cheeky Monkeys Food: The best shortbread I’ve ever tasted. At that point I was close to full and certain items weren’t enjoyable anymore. This erased my memory of being unable to fit more food in my stomach, just awesome.

Café Muse: Mac and Cheese and Butterscotch Pudding with bacon. The Mac and Cheese was good, but it was their pudding that won me over. The bacon mixed in perfectly and that’s just one good pudding.

Street Eatzz: Their presentation was something cool to see. They made a crazy bacon frittata that tasted pretty good, but the living cooking added a nice touch to the event and they interacted well with the crowd.

Cliff Bell’s bacon-banana cupcakes were moist with a great banana taste.

Bakon Vodka Bloody Mary with McClure’s pickle brine. This I tried and at first taste I didn’t like it. In fact, I thought it was pretty disgusting and I really enjoy a good Bloody Mary. But like any introduction I knew first impressions aren’t always the real impression. When I sipped it again the taste really started growing on me. The flavors flowed together nicely and the spice level topped it off nicely.

The dancing crowd: this has nothing to do with food, but the people who danced to the music and seemed to genuinely enjoy the whole scene were awesome. I’ll admit, even I jumped in and danced a little because when you’re high on bacon you can do anything.

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The Pig- Mr. Versatility

I’m just going to come out and throw this statement at you: The pig is the most versatile animal in the meat industry today.

Instead of advertising pork as “The Other White Meat,” let the world know that the pig can be cooked in a bevy of ways. Before we rip into the un-Kosher meat, let’s look back at my history with the pig.

Growing up in a Jewish household, pork was not something promoted within the house. Sure, I had the occasional strip of bacon at a Big Boy breakfast buffet or a pepperoni pizza (a double violation of the rules), but it was rare. The first time and most familiar I had become with a pig was Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web. He was lovable, no doubt, and I understood why my people wouldn’t want to eat such fun creatures.

As I grew older, so did my fascination with food. By this point, the scenes of Wilbur no longer endeared me. Not even Babe could deter me from ripping through bacon and ribs on a regular basis. Then, in 2009, my admiration for the animal reached its peak.

As I walked through Madrid, the Museo del Jamon stared me down. I knew at that moment, I would have to make a new friend. We flirted at first. I’d walk by it on my way to a real museum and tell myself, you’ll go inside soon. I’d go as far as walking in, looking around, and walking out.  It was still early in my travels and I knew minimal Spanish to begin with. I took chances at other restaurants first, engulfing jamon iberico sandwiches at random locations. I finally knew I wanted to make sure I took advantage of this Museum of Ham. Finally, with a day to spare, I entered determined to eat. I remember pointing at the sign and accepting whatever they gave me. I knew at that moment, the pig could never disappoint.

Since then, I’ve eaten all sorts of pig from Morcillo (blood sausage) to pig ear and whole pork knuckles (cartilage included). The pig can be used and eaten in a variety of delicious ways.

And now, after getting my self-obsessive pig story out of the way I will take you threw the pig breeding process.

Pigs are typically noted as dirty animals and a tad bit destructive. This means, especially early, you have to monitor them closely. Keeping them in a clean environment is important. Don’t believe the media scandal that tells you pigs love their own filth. If you help keep their area clean, the pigs will do their part as well. For those offended by their mud baths, the truth is, they need those to keep cool and clean, plus they invented the mud bath well before spas began charging hundreds of dollars for them. Check and mate.

This site about pig breeding helps introduce the basics of early life. Important to note, if the mother pig isn’t in some sort of crate/contraption, the breeder runs the risk of having the piglets crushed during the first few month. With usually 14 teats to extract milk from, the piglets are well serviced. From there, they begin to live the normal life of feeding. Here are five additional tips of the type of environment they should have ready to go.

From there the cycle continues. This pig production chart from ukagriculture.com helps show the process and time it takes to get to the slaughter point. 

As you see at the end, the slaughter is the final destination. If you want to see the actual process check out this photo and caption timeline of the final chapter in a pig’s life. I do warn it’s a bit graphic and even depressing if you’ve ever been attached to pigs like Babe, Little Cory (of Boy Meets World fame), or Wilbur.

But the good news are the final products. Led by bacon and accompanied with ribs, ham, pork chops, and everything else, the pig offers up many delightful tastings. How about some Dr. pepper ribs or bacon wrapped smokies. And check out a wide range of recipes from thepigsite.com.

And to cap it off, here’s a video from a friend (from My Backyards Chicken fame) highlighting the greatness of one product, bacon.