Eliza Cross grew up on bacon in Boulder.
“My earliest memory of bacon was my dad cooking it when I was a little girl,” she says. “It’s one of those smells and tastes I’ll never forget, like instant love.”
This was the first inkling that the veteran Colorado author would eventually dive headlong down the bacon rabbit hole.
“Mom made peanut butter, butter and bacon sandwiches on her home-baked whole wheat bread. It’s a strange sandwich, but I loved it,” she says. (Actually, it wasn’t that weird for Colorado. Elvis Presley and his crew famously flew to Denver in the ’70s simply to eat a Fool’s Gold — a sourdough loaf stuffed with peanut butter, jelly, and a pound of very crisp bacon.)
Cross’ obsession got serious 15 years ago when she wrote 101 Things To Do With Bacon (Gibbs Smith).
“I had wanted to write it for a long time, but my publishers turned it down because bacon is too unhealthy. A couple of years later, they changed their minds,” she says with a chuckle. The book is now in its third printing, and Cross followed it up more recently with a sequel, 101 More Things to Do With Bacon, adding recipes for everything from bacon pecan sticky buns to grilled bacon peanut butter sandwiches.
BENSA: The Club for Pork ‘Geniuses’
In writing the books, Cross discovered she wasn’t alone in her pork belly obsession.
“It was fun to write because people who love bacon are so enthusiastic,” Cross says.
“I thought it would be fun to bring this community together. Almost as a joke I started blogging and created this little society for bacon lovers.”
BENSA is an acronym for Bacon Enthusiasts ‘n’ Swine Aficionados. “It’s a take-off on the group MENSA, the club for super-geniuses,” she says. “We accept bacon lovers at all intelligence levels. You may not be able to get admitted to MENSA, but we will welcome you into BENSA.”
The BENSA website provides a wealth of tested recipes for cream of bacon soup, bacon mac and cheese, bacon fat ginger cookies, bacon onion jam and bacon vodka, the perfect spirit for bloody marys.
“Bacon vodka infused with cooked chopped bacon is kind of amazing, like bacon elixir,” she says. Bacon vodka fits the current mixology trend of using “fat-washed” spirits in cocktails.
Colorado: The State of Bacon
According to Cross, Colorado’s bacon bona fides are strong, with big events like the Denver Bacon and Beer Classic on May 22 and Keystone Resort’s Bourbon and Bacon Festival June 24 through 25 featuring a bacon-eating contest, bacon tastings and Camp Bacon for kids.
Local house-smoked bacon is available at places like Blackbelly Market and Arapahoe Meat Co. in Lafayette.
“What I see in Colorado is a movement towards using heritage breeds, supporting sustainable local farming practices, and a bit healthier product using natural ingredients,” Cross says. Asked to name her top, widely available Colorado bacons, Cross objects.
“That’s like picking your favorite child, but I’m a fan of Tender Belly, a well-known Colorado brand, and River Bear, which makes a really nice uncured bacon,” she says. “There’s a good newer producer in Carbondale called Fryingpan Bacon,” she says.
Where to Dine on Great Swine
It’s hard to find a local eatery that doesn’t have any bacon on its menu — even if it’s coconut “bacon,” but some restaurants celebrate bacon in the center of the plate. William Oliver’s Publick House in Lafayette offers a “pint of bacon” — multiple bacon strips in a beer glass with maple syrup for dipping. Bacon jam is used as a condiment at the Organic Sandwich Company in Boulder and Louisville.
“I like Bacon Social House because they serve a flight of bacon strips and include a pair of scissors to cut the strips in pieces to share,” Cross says. “For me, that’s just nirvana.”
“We recently took my mom to Le French Café in Boulder and had a wonderful savory crepe filled with mushrooms, Swiss cheese and bacon,” she says. She also praises the “amazing” bacon macaroni and cheese at The Truffle Table in Denver.
Refining Your Cooking Technique
The BENSA website provides a wealth of information about preparing and serving bacon, but Cross favors one technique for achieving perfect strips.
“If I’m making a batch of bacon, I cover a baking sheet with foil, then a sheet of parchment paper to keep the bacon from sticking,” she says. “I lay the strips out and bake them at 325 degrees until crisp, which varies depending on thickness. I flip them once and the whole process takes about 20 or 30 minutes.”
The most popular BENSA recipe is bacon candied with brown sugar and maple syrup. “It gets crispy and almost crunchy on the outside,” Cross says.
Tough as it is to believe, Cross insists she’s only scratched the candied, smoked and peppered surface of the international bacon scene. “I still haven’t smoked my own pork belly to make my own bacon,” Cross says.
There is a recipe for using a pellet smoker to craft bacon at home and more information at: bensabaconlovers.com
Local Food News: City Nixes Voodoo’s Pink
In a quintessential Boulder code-violation moment, the much-anticipated Voodoo Doughnut, 3210 Arapahoe Ave., will open, but not wearing the company’s signature shocking pink. The building was recently repainted in boring, code-complying shades of gray. I was just thinking that Boulder needed another bland commercial building on Arapahoe Avenue. Luckily, heavily glazed maple bacon bars will be served.
Words to Chew On
“Or say, sweet love, what thou desirest to eat.” — From A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare.