It's bacon, but not as we normally know it: nitrate-free and dry-cured.
WHO Mississippi-born chef George Francisco has been busy finessing his bacon recipe since migrating to Australia in 2001. His aim? To recreate the intensely flavoured, southern-style, dry-cured smoked bacon he remembers from childhood. Last year, the expat left his executive chef role at Tower Estate in the Hunter Valley and relocated to sunny Noosa to set up Voodoo Bacon.
WHAT Each slab of bacon is handmade. Francisco sources bellies from free-range pigs from Ipswich in Queensland and applies a dry-cure of rock salt, brown sugar, juniper, thyme, garlic and assorted spices. The applewood used for smoking is from the Sunshine Coast. "As you cure, it gets salty, so you need smoke to get the balance right," says Francisco. "The applewood gives an equal amount of smoke, salt and sugar." Most commercial bacon is wet-cured to add bulk. Dry-curing takes longer and intensifies the flavour, but sheds around 40 per cent of the original piece of pork's weight. Francisco currently produces around 300 kilos per week, and his goal is to up it to 1,000 kilos. "I want to keep it artisanal." He cures his pork bellies skin-on for 10 to 15 days. "I've tried to reduce the salt level and change the recipe, but you just lose flavour."
WHY Voodoo bacon is nitrate-free. "There's nothing in there no one's not heard of," says Francisco. "Lots of bacon contains preservatives or they've used liquid smoke - you can smell that as soon as you open the packaging." He argues that with sell-by dates and refrigeration, there's no need for preservatives and we should get used to the natural colour of bacon, which turns brown when it's exposed to air. While Francisco sells it in super-thin slices for convenience, his preference is to sell it by the handbranded slab. "Nobody buys pre-sliced onions because they oxidise and taste bad, so why buy pre-sliced bacon?"
WHERE Voodoo Bacon is available wholesale at Vic's Premium Quality Meat Sydney and Melbourne. For retail, see Edgecliff's Gourmet Life, Victor Churchill and Vic's Meat Market at Sydney Fish Market. In Queensland, see Forest Glen's Kunara or Noosaville's Eumundi Meats. Customers can also order online from voodoobacon.com.au.