29 January, 2010

Cumberland Gap Hickory Smoked Sliced Pork Jowl Bacon

On January 19th, over at The Ridiculous Food Society of Upstate New York, Mr. Dave (no relation) reviewed Cumberland Gap Jowl Bacon. Click here for a link to that post.

It's been a while since I had jowl bacon, so I immediately headed over to my local Price Chopper to see if it was available, and it was! So I bought a package, and last weekend the family and I tucked into some for breakfast.

Now if you've ever seen a smoked jowl before, you'll know that it is very much crescent-shaped: the ends are narrow - pointy, even - and the central part is broad. From a commercial packers' point of view, it must be a nightmare, because it would be really hard to get a product like that into neat, uniform slices that are easy to package.

Cumberland Gap seems to have come up with sort of a solution to that problem, though. They apparently take the jowls and compress them into a cylindrical shape, then split them down the center and cut them into neatly uniform semicircular slices. The irregular shape of a natural jowl doesn't lend itself easily to this kind of shaping, though, and there are little pockets of gelatine filling in the gaps in the slices.

What this all adds up to is a variety of bacon with more of a moisture content than usual, and which tends to get a little tatty-looking as it cooks. Thick slices and wet cures mean that cooking over a lower heat is the best method here, but the irregular way the jowl is jumbled together in the slices cause them to take on a wicked curl as they start to fry. Accordingly, I kept the fire down to low and used my cast-iron bacon press to hold the slices down in the pan. They cooked up every bit as ugly as I expected - unevenly shaped, with bits falling off here and there. But all was not lost! The slices also cooked up evenly and, with the help of the bacon press, nicely within that range of bacon perfection where the slices are crispy but not brittle and uniformly golden brown.

At right, you can see what I mean by "tatty-looking" bits of pork. The compressed bits just simply "let go" of each other and sizzled up into more-or-less random shapes that had nothing to do with either the natural shape of the jowl or the semicircular shape that was imposed upon them.

But with bacon, it doesn't matter so much what the stuff looks like; the important part is how it tastes. And Cumberland Gap jowl bacon has a very good flavor, indeed.

It's not too salty, yet not bland. The smoke flavor is noticeable and delicious, and as Mr. Dave mentioned, it has a richer and more "porky" flavor than standard bacon. Parts of the jowl are a bit cartilaginous, so you also get bits of chewy, tooth-resistant bacony goodness that adds to the textural interest.

Overall, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Cumberland Gap's jowl bacon to anyone. It really does make a nice change from the standard rashers of bacon we find everywhere. I just can't help but wish that they'd leave the stuff in its natural shape instead of trying to impose a fragile uniformity upon it that just falls apart upon cooking.


Cumberland Gap Provision Company - Learn about the company and about their many other pork products.



llcwine said...

it's very good stuff...did you also see that P Chops carries it unsliced? I'm wondering if it wouldn't be good diced up, fried along with some shredded cabbage cooked down..etc....

Dave said...

When I was there, they only had a couple packages of the sliced stuff. I'll keep an eye open for the unsliced next time because I can think of a thousand uses for that stuff.

Thrifty is Nifty said...

Great read!! Here iT is Christmas morning (Merry Christmas) and I have some of this (exact package) of pork jowl and I am trying to figure out how to cook it up this morning to go along with our country ham and biscuits when I stumbled across your page. THANKS! Got the iron skillet on and low heat so hopefully it will turn out good

Joe said...

This is the best jowl bacon I've ever had. I prefer it over regular bacon anyday. Even if it doesn't look pretty after it is cooked.

Anonymous said...

Cumberland gap is what we have around here. It comes in uncompressed form, quite irregular shrink wrapped chunks. I slice it close to a quarter inch, and start it in a deep pan, frying it on med low heat until there is sufficient fat in the pan. Then I crack a can of plain old green beans per slice. Geepers, the steam rises and hisses when the first can is dumped in the pan add some diced onions and cook on LOW heat for about 5 hours. I have to keep using bigger pans for the folks that love them. On Saturdays, folks stop by as they know there is a kettle on the stove. I learned to cut up the slices so everybody can chew the fat. Leave the skin on, it's nice and chewy.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I am hooked on Jowl bacon!
I found the best way to cook these tasty slices is in the oven on broil. Flip them once when they start to curl, never had any fall apart and they all cook evenly.

Diced this bacon makes a GREAT subsitute for regular bacon in Carbonara as well as seasoning for beans, greens and baked taters.


Anonymous said...

I love jowl bacon but I always buy the chunk that is not preformed, & yes it's great for seasoning.The problem now seems to be they have put excess sugar or sometging to the meat because it now wants to burn & doesn't cook or taste the same I have gone to buying a differnt brand. My mother told me she ran in to this problem recently & I had forgotten until I bought some and had the same problem they have screwed up a good product. I wish someone could address this to let me know what happened some of the other brands do not have this problem. If it ain't broke don't fix it. I figure it had something to due with a bean counter trying to make a little extra money.

Unknown said...

Smithfield bought them out and ruined the product. Now it's just a jowl with brine injected in it. Hasn't been anywhere near smoke unless off a truck muffler!!! Don't waste your money!!!!!!! Look for Fricks instead.