The quest to find Australia's best bacon is a serious - and sizzling - business.
As part of The Australian PorkMark Awards, a whopping 135 butchers and bacon producers from around Australia have had their wares tried and tested by a panel searching for the country's best. Zammit Ham & Bacon Curers in Pendle Hill, New South Wales, have been awarded the title of Australia's Best Artisan Bacon. (Let it be known, Zammit also took out the Gourmet Traveller award last year for Best Christmas Ham.)
"We are extremely excited and happy to win this prize," says general manager at Zammit Bacon, Adam Zammit. "We are still a family run business… blending ingredients, making, cooking, smoking and tasting every batch of our products. A keen eye to choose the right fresh pork makes all the difference."
The Australian PorkMark Awards began as a way to promote local producers, and to bring awareness to the fact that almost two-thirds of the bacon sold in Australia is made from imported pork. The judges - German fleischmeister (that's meat master) Horst Schurger and Australian chefs Simon Bestley and Paul McDonald - spent two days tasting the produce. In selecting the winners, the judges looked for bacon with enough fat coverage to ensure great flavour, an even brine with balanced levels of salt, and with just a hint of smokiness.
The awards are split into categories for full rasher and short-cut bacon; each is critiqued in its raw and cooked states to determine shrinkage and "just the right amount of sizzle", says Mitch Edwards, marketing manager for Australian Pork Limited. "It should be 85 per cent meat and 15 per cent fat," says Schurger, who has a master's degree in smallgoods and butchery from Germany. "The best bacon is lean but still has some integrated fat. That makes it extra juicy when it's cooked - too lean and it doesn't have much flavour."
Other producers topping their state categories include the ACT's Southlands Quality Meats, Circle T Meats from Queensland, Leabrook Quality Meats from South Australia, Montrose Meats & Smokehouse in Victoria, Princi Smallgoods in Western Australia, and Sharman's Butchery in Tasmania.
And while Schurger suggested he'd be enjoying the Zammit for breakfast with a side of fried eggs, here at GT we've decided a white-bread buttie with a drizzle of barbecue sauce (pictured) is the way to go.
"Bacon brings joy to dishes from breakfast to dessert," says Edwards. "It's the chocolate of meat."