The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Baconfest: A Great Place to Make a Pig of Yourself

Bacon....It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore!

I'm fortunate to live in a place with a great local butcher shop. I've got a good relationship with my butcher. He appreciates that I never purchase meat anywhere else, and I appreciate that because of him I don't have to. With one little exception. I will blatantly cheat on my butcher with Allan Benton every chance I get. My local guy knows it and he doesn't really care because I also bring him a pound or two of Benton's Hickory Smoked Country Bacon whenever I stop at Allan's place in Madisonville, Tennessee to stock up.

So I happened to mention to him the other day that I'll be heading off to Baconfest in Johnson City, Tennessee next week, where they'll have a supply of Benton's bacon on hand. To my great surprise, he had never heard of Baconfest. Not just of this relatively modest event but of Baconfests in general. Where's he been?

Baconfests and/or bacon festivals are taking the country by storm. Formerly the province of big cities with big epicurean populations, celebrations of bacon are now turning up in hamlets – sorry, but I had to go there – across the nation. Sometimes these paeans to pork are day-long events and sometimes organizers just pig out and pack everything into a few hours. Occasionally a bacon festival will be held as part of a larger food event and once in a while you'll find one paired up with beer or an equally compatible comestible. Baconfests can be held for the benefit of a particular charity or community cause or they can exist just for fun and porky pleasure.

So what happens at a baconfest? Well, people bring in these chickens.........C'mon! It's all about bacon! In general, baconfests are made up of three elements: an exhibition of bacon and bacon products by national, regional, and/or local artisans and vendors; a sampling menu of bacon dishes provided by area chefs and restaurants; and a selection of bacony beverages. Usually the exhibition area is open to the public for a nominal fee with access to the food and beverage areas granted to those who choose to purchase a “V.I.P.” upgrade.

Chicago began praising pork bellies back in 2009 with what it describes as a “humble beginning” to a now world-class event, one that was featured on the Travel Channel in 2012 and included 120 participating chefs and restaurants in 2013.

New York and Washington, D.C. boast a Baconfest and so do San Francisco and San Diego. In between the coasts are events in DesMoines, Kansas City, Atlanta, Boston, and Orlando. But smaller venues like River Falls, Wisconsin; Littleton, Colorado; Grand Forks, North Dakota; and Ann Arbor, Michigan also see queues of rabid bacon lovers lining up to party.

Dayton, Ohio hosted its first Bacon Fest in 2013, an event that caught virgin vendors off guard and resulted in nearly everybody at the sixteen participating restaurants running out of bacon. After the social media backlash organizers promise to be better prepared next year.

Another fledgling pork party happened in Coconut Creek, Florida this year. They also underestimated the appeal of bacon to the approximately 2,500 folks who showed up and ate them out of a literal ton of bacon. They're planning to double the size of their event next year.

Twenty local restaurants and more that twenty craft beers were highlighted at Richmond, Virginia's inaugural Bacon Fest this year. Elsewhere in the Old Dominion, Roanoke will get its bacon on on Labor Day weekend in honor of International Bacon Day, August 31.

They're planning a Bacon Bash in Hoboken, New Jersey on September 7.

Also on September 7, the aforementioned Johnson City will host its 2nd Annual Tri-Cities Baconfest at VENUE downtown. The event sort of evolved from an attempt in Knoxville that was short-lived because of conflicts on the part of the initial organizers. A local non-profit revived the East Tennessee festival, bringing it to Bristol, TN/VA last year and broadening the scope and range by relocating to Johnson City for 2013. A big plus is that this will be an indoor party. Another selling point is the all-inclusive nature of the tickets. On the downside/upside, tickets are limited, but such limitation insures that attendees get their money's worth. Nobody leaves hungry or unsatisfied because of shortages. And it's all for a good cause. Proceeds benefit Special Spaces, a San Francisco-based charity that creates dream bedrooms for children with life-threatening illnesses. And there'll be Benton's bacon. What more could you want? Information?

If you can't make the Tri-Cities event, fear not for there is likely a celebration of bacon coming to a city near you. Bacon Today, the online source for everything bacon, keeps track of such things at Events still on the horizon as of this writing include:

The San Diego Hormel Black Label Bacon Fest, San Diego, CA – August 31, 2013
Baconfest VA, Roanoke, VA – August 31, 2013
The Camden Riversharks Bacon Fest, Camden, NJ – August 31, 2013
Tri-Cities Baconfest, Johnson City, TN – September 7, 2013
River Falls Bacon Bash, River Falls, WI – September 8, 2013
Alferd Packer Bacon Party, Littleton, CO – September 14, 2013 (And, yes, “Alferd” is correct.)
The Orlando Festival of Bacon, Orlando, FL – October 5, 2013
Happy Harry's Beer and Bacon Festival, Grand Forks, ND – October 5, 2013
Baconfest San Francisco, San Francisco, CA – October 11, 2013
Ozarks Bacon Fest, Springfield, MO – October 12, 2013

And organizers of the Chicago, St. Louis, and DesMoines festivals are already gearing up for 2014.

The biggest problem I foresee here is how I'm going to make San Diego, Roanoke, and Camden all on the same day. Same for Orlando and Grand Forks in October. But I'm working on it.

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