Britain once had a huge range of different cures and methods for making bacon. At one time every farmhouse would have its own special recipe. With the regional differences in landscape and the foods available for pigs the flavour would vary too. Wiltshire bacon has long been famous in the country – Swindon is derived from Swine-toun, or pig farm. Local resources meant that Wiltshire pigs had a diet that gave their flesh especial savour: the plentiful oak forests provided acorns (acorns also give Parma ham its superb flavour); and the cheese-making of nearby Somerset provided whey.
But what is regarded as the classic Wiltshire cure is in fact of relatively recent date.
Around 1840 the Harris family, bacon curers based in Calne in Wiltshire, came up with a brilliant innovation. The purpose of salting pork to make bacon was primarily to preserve it. The Harris company were able to make their stock of bacon last even though they used a reduced amount of salt by creating a proto-refrigerator in the roof of one of their buildings, packing it with ice in the winter. Sandridge Farm, one of the few surviving Wiltshire curers, brines its bacon for just 3 – 4 days, then dries it for a fortnight, letting the flavour develop in cool conditions.
This reduced salting meant the flavour of the pork was far more prominent, and the molasses or sugar often used in the cure too was more easily discernable. Traditional Wiltshire bacon was supplied to markets and wholesalers without smoking, that process being undertaken by the middlemen themselves, though today it is more likely to be done by the curer.
One point that must be made here. If your bacon exudes water when it is cooked, it is not the traditional quality product that makes breakfast a blissful pleasure. Quality curers like Sandridge Farm, curers who care about the heritage of this most traditional of meat products, do not, at least in the opinion of this writer, inject their bacon with water. Bacon that has been bulked up with water will not fry properly, as the water gushes out and you end up with poached pig, floppy and unpleasant. In theory watery bacon is cheap. But as Elizabeth David noted, a bad meal is expensive at any price
From Paul Gahan on 30th November 2009
Firstly, there is no historical evidence that the name Swindon is derived from "Swine Town". It is spelt differently in the Domesday Book, and the geographical location of Old Swindon (as opposed to the post GWR new town is peculiarly unsuited to pig-rearing, being perched on top of a hill. Secondly, Wiltshire in the 19th Century had a far greater cheese-making heritage than Somerset. Although cheesemaking died out almost completely after the 2nd WW, before that "North Wiltshire Loaf" was one of the most popular cheeses in ths country, and generally thought to be superior to both Cheddar and Double Gloucester. (I work in Swindon Local Studies Library)
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