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Let Them Eat Bacon!

. . . says one of the few who could actually get his hands on the stuff at Hudson’s first-ever Bacon Festival

by B.A. Nilsson on September 13, 2012 · 3 comments

In a perfect world, there would be no bacon. A perfect world, that is, for nutritionists and vegetarians. In a perfect world, there would be bacon galore. A perfect world for those who’ve succumbed to the rasher’s charm. In the imperfect world of Hudson’s first-ever Bacon Fest, we experienced both, which is a fancy way of noting that the festival’s many charms were overshadowed by the fact that it was visited by the worst possible problem: The bacon ran out.

Sunday, Sept. 2: The morning was warm and clear and the day seemed to grow hotter and sunnier. I’d been invited to the festival as a judge, and who can turn down an opportunity to sample a varied canvas of bacon?

This came on the heels of a tasting I attended last month at a gallery space on Manhattan’s Mulberry Street. It was the launch of Jennie-O brand turkey bacon, joining a line of other processed-turkey products made by this Hormel subsidiary, and it was presented as a healthy alternative to the traditional stuff, with high-energy TV chef Devin Alexander on hand to guide us through a quartet of breakfasty preparations, each of which substituted altruism for flavor.

Turkey bacon is like a frozen dinner—a simulacrum that should be taken on its own merit. When real bacon sizzles at you from the stove, there’s no mistaking it for any other food. For many, it’s a cheerful link to childhood. For some, it’s a rebellion against our overprotective age. But I’m guessing for most it’s purely sybaritic. The combination of fat and crunch and meat and salt is as compelling a culinary experience as you could desire.

Fifty years ago, we tried cooking it in our toasters (the short-lived Reddi-Bacon). Single-purpose bacon cookers are out there, and the misguided insist on microwaving the stuff. But nothing beats the sensory experience of watching a dozen or more striated strips writhing and popping on a hot cast-iron dance floor.

“I’m a vegetarian,” says Mikko Cook. “But Brian, my husband, is a lover of bacon, and we’ve noticed that there’s this renewed interest in bacon in the air. We started talking about it.” And they noticed that there’s no area bacon festival. “We go to the annual garlic festival in Saugerties, and the pickle festival in Rosendale. So we decided to put this together.”

The venue was a riverside park not far from Hudson’s Amtrak station, which was one of the problems. Another was a piece that ran the day before in the New York Post. A lot of people were inspired to take that train. The organizers hoped for 500, maybe 1,000 people. About 3,000 showed up.

Repercussions seemed to go on for days. Although there was a notable lack of participation from Hudson’s restaurants, I walked past the Red Dot on Warren Street on my way out and saw “We Have Bacon” snidely noted on its sidewalk sandwich board. And the talk-schlubs on radio’s FLY-92 indulged in a nasty-assed trashing of the event without speaking to any of its organizers.

“We personally responded to many, many people,” said Cook. “We said we’d make it up to them, and we’re trying to be true to our word.” On the bright side, the event raised $2,000 for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, to which the Cooks added another $1,000.

When I arrived, early in the afternoon, a battlefield feeling already prevailed. What had been a massive line—long enough to discourage a visit by Mario Batali—had shortened because the ticket sellers were waiving the fee (although they were dealing with the erupting problem of settling with unhappy refund seekers.

Now the long lines stretched back from a pair of vendor trucks, as Slidin’ Dirty and Pippy’s Hot Dogs tried to keep up with the ongoing demand for the non-bacon sandwiches that remained. Inside the vendor tent, each successive menu board sported the word “bacon” only with a line through it.

With so many of the disgruntled heading away, what remained was a core of people happy to munch on what still was available and enjoy the music of a succession of vibrant bands, with a nice view of the river just beyond the bandstand.

My fellow judges were Steve Barnes from the Times Union and Dan Berman, the voice behind FUSSYlittleBLOG, and we were assured that a well-guarded cache of food items remained for our delectation.

It was a shocking sight to some of the passers-by as the three of us were served round after round of appealingly aromatic fare. I heard cries of, “How come they get bacon?” more than once.

Winner of the savory category was the Hawaiian hot dog from Pippy’s Hot Dog Truck. The dog, no surprise, was wrapped in bacon before hitting the deep-fryer, and served with a pineapple-mustard-ginger sauce. I found the flavor fun, if mustardy, and thought the cheap bun a liability, but majority opinion prevailed.

My own savory favorite, the portobello mushroom topped with bacon-enhanced chevre from Goats and Gourmets, would win no beauty prize (a deft plate-decoration of flowers notwithstanding), but the cheese-to-bacon balance was just right.

Bacon and goat cheese also figured into a truffle crafted by Sweet Sues of Troy, served alongside a shard of bacon brittle. Tasty as it was, it lost in the sweet category to the outrageous bacon-bourbon caramel-salted cupcake from Carlucci Simons Catering, the cream cheese frosting of which was a marvel of a collision of bacon and sugar.

Overall presence of bacon was one of the criteria by which we judged, and it was surprising to taste such a variety, from the complex but bacon-light cheese spread from Worldling’s Pleasure of Watervliet to a milkshake (the provenance of which I mercifully can’t recall) that seemed clogged with bacon gravel.

The bacon tended to vanish into the barbecued ribs around which it was wrapped, while a bratwurst roll-up with bacon, cream cheese and green peppers lacked a strong enough statement from the sausage.

I loved the originality of Slidin’ Dirty’s bacon-wrapped butternut squash eggroll whose muted flavor was rescued by its lemon-sage dipping sauce. And, for the ultimate in excess, I defer to the maple-bacon whoopie pie from the Local Flavor Café, a confection so sweet that I feared that eating it would affect my grandchildren’s blood sugar.

Although I attended the event with a decided advantage, I’d still call it a qualified success. It proved that bacon maintains its deep cultural resonance. It demonstrated the meatstuff’s impressive versatility. And it guarantees that there will be so much bacon at next year’s event that the nearby hills and valleys will rock with the delicious aroma.

 

Table scraps: A soul food dinner to benefit the Troy Larger Parish Food Pantry will be held from 4 to 6 PM on Saturday (Sept. 15) at the Oakwood Community Center (313 10th St., Troy). The menu includes baked chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens and sliced tomatoes, along with dessert and beverage—all for a mere $10. Parking is available in the lot below the building off 9th Street or across the street at the old firehouse on 10th Street. Enter through the side door at the bottom of the stairs. For more info, call Linda at 273-5199.

 

Correction: Due to a typeface-translation error in last week’s “Cafeteria Classics 101,” the words βουρδών and κέτσαπ appeared as âïõñäþí and êÝôóáð, respectively.

{ 3 comments }

alana hauptmann September 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm

As the owner of Red Dot Restaurant in Hudson NY, I took offense at several points in this story.
The author makes mention to the obvious lack of participation by local restaurants. I have spoken to several other restuarants and none them recalls being invited to participate.
As regards to the “we have bacon” on our sandwich board as being snide, quite honestly it was a tongue in cheed attempt to lighten up all the disgruntled people who came to our restaurant when they could not get bacon at the Bacon Festival.
Obviously there was great interest in the idea, hence the number of people who turned up.But next time there should be a greater effort to contact the many restaurants in Hudson who would most certainly have contributed to making it a big success. Come on in and try our Salmon BLT !
Sincerely
Alana Hauptmann

Mikko Cook September 18, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Hello Alana,
Let me introduce myself, something I should have done in person about 2 months ago. My name is Mikko Cook, and I am one of the founders and organizers of Bacon Fest NY. The reason that the author makes mention of the lack of participation by Hudson restaurants is because that was definitely the case that day. I must apologize for not contacting you directly, and while I’m not exactly sure which other businesses you have spoken to, I can assure you that we sent a multitude of emails, made several phone calls and even personally visited the businesses in Hudson to invite them to participate in BFNY. Many never responded to our emails or never returned our calls, despite the multiple messages left. To aid in our attempt, we enlisted the help of the president of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, as well as the executive director of the Hudson Development Corporation – both of which reached out on our behalf to the businesses of Hudson to encourage them to participate in BFNY. In one particular instance, we were introduced in a small businesses of Hudson meeting with the Chamber and the HDC present, and encouraged all in attendance to not only participate, but to also encourage other local Hudson businesses to sign on as well. Finally, there was a lovely write up in Hudson’s newspaper, The Register Star, the month before the event happened, that proclaimed the event on the horizon and talks about what a great opportunity it was for the city of Hudson. You can read the article here:
http://www.registerstar.com/articles/2012/08/13/news/doc5028350aae3d5058448113.txt
I’m sorry if somehow our message missed you. It was never our intention to leave any business out. Where would the sense be in that? Bacon Fest NY is designed to celebrate the local flavor, so clearly it fails our mission not to do everything in our power to accomplish this. Knowing that this was the first year, we will continue to improve upon the work that was done, and grow this event to exceed everyone’s expectations.

Please feel free to contact me directly at mikko@liveyourlifelocal.com if you would like to discuss how we can work together to build a better event.

alana hauptmann September 17, 2012 at 4:07 pm

spell check I meant tongue in Cheek, not cheed