Tom Douglas Events is convening its third annual Baconopolis tonight at The Palace Ballroom, prompting local pork detractors to wonder how much longer the bacon craze will last.
As director of "Camp Bacon," a four-day celebration of bacon starting today in Ann Arbor, Mich., Zingerman's Gauri Thergaonkar has heard the same grumblings. But she firmly believes the bacon fad shouldn't be dismissed as valueless.
"Bacon has made people attuned to the taste of food," she says. "They'll ask 'What's the quality of the pork?' or 'Is this bacon just injected with water?' In that sense, it's really quite awesome."
Bacon is made from just three ingredients: pork, salt, and smoke. According to Thergaonkar, the simplicity of the recipe allows even amateur eaters to confidently analyze and understand various bacons. While certain self-identified bacon fans are more interested in bacon salt and bacon hot sauce than artisanal bacons, Thergaonkar says many eaters have taken advantage of the recent craze to hone their connoisseurship. "I think if it influences how 20 percent of the nation thinks about bacon, it's fantastic," she says.
Thergaonkar hesitates to draw an exact analogy to wine, another edible with a limited ingredient list and enormous nuance, but agrees bacon--which Zingerman's owner Ari Weinzweig has described as "America's prosciutto"--could serve as another pathway to palate development. "I've had the privilege of tasting 10 different bacons side by side, and you can taste the differences," she says.
Bacon is sufficiently sophisticated that Camp Bacon, now in its second year, is drawing return campers. Bacon hero Allan Benton is back, but this year's agenda also includes a lecture on hog drovers and how they kept their charges from losing weight on their walk to market; a conversation between cooking teacher Molly Stevens and James Beard award-winning chef Andrea Reusing (who also plan to make candied bacon s'mores), and a reading of poems about pigs.
"No one has a rational response to bacon," says Thergaonkar, who was raised in a vegetarian Hindu household. "I fell over the edge because of bacon. Anybody who likes it is crazy about it."