17 March, 2009

Is Niman Ranch Bacon Really Worth $12 A Pound?

In the few stores near me where it's available, Niman Ranch bacon sells in 12-ounce packages for $8.99. That works out to about $12 a pound, and that's a lot of money for bacon. Can any bacon really be worth that much? I decided to spring for a package and find out.

I bought Niman Ranch Uncured Applewood Smoked Center Cut Bacon.

The raw bacon looks good, but not exceptional. There's nothing about the cut of the meat itself that would make it stand out - it's fairly typical bacon, with thin marbled red areas of lean and big areas of fat. If you thought that "premium" bacon would be "leaner" bacon, you'd be disappointed. As I peeled off the strips to put them in the frying pan, I did notice a texture difference: Niman Ranch bacon is firmer and somewhat dryer than most standard supermarket bacons. This might be due to the minimal processing, or it might be because Niman Ranch isn't using a "quick cure" where the pork belly is injected with brine. Whatever the reason, Niman Ranch bacon has a much lower moisture content than other typical brands.

That lower moisture content also means that the bacon shrinks a little less in the pan, and there is less curling as it cooks. Wish some bacons, I need to use a bacon press to keep the rashers flat as they fry, but with Niman Ranch the strips stay flat all by themselves. They cook very evenly, too, and brown slowly, so it seemed easier to cook to just the right degree. Thicker cuts also kept the cooked texture very even.

Other cooking notes: There is a distinct "celery" smell when the bacon is fried, probably owing to the celery juice used in processing it (celery is a natural source of nitrates; I'll leave it up to you to decide whether that's "healthier" than curing with sodium nitrate crystals from a bottle, but the only real difference is that by not using the bottle version the bacon can be labeled "uncured.") The smell cooks off fairly quickly, though, and by the time the bacon is ready for serving, there is no celery aroma or taste. There is, however, the delicious bouquet of the applewood smoke, which is present in just the right amount.

There is no question that Niman Ranch bacon is the Cadillac of bacon. It's excellent.

So: Is this stuff worth $12 a pound? To some people, perhaps, and I guess that's a good thing because buying Niman Ranch meats does help support small, family-run, sustainably-managed US farms.

On the other hand, I'm forced by my budget to make compromises when I shop, trying to balance cost with "responsible" consumption. I pay a bit more to buy my milk right at the source, but I have to draw the line when it comes to luxury prices for bacon. Even really, really good bacon.


Niman Ranch's website

Niman Ranch discusses the difference between "cured" and "uncured" meats - a good explanation of the celery juice/lacto bacteria curing method they use.



phairhead said...

apperantly 12 is not bad for bacon, according to my other half

Ama said...

This delicious bacon costs $5.99 at the store I buy it from. I wonder why there's such a price difference.

Anonymous said...

In the SF Bay Area, at least, you can get it at Costco for about $15 per 3-pack.