Best Bacon in Victoria – The Final Showdown

Alright, we got the message. After our last post seeking out the best bacon in Victoria, it became quite clear that we omitted some top contenders, including Glenwood Meats and Carnivore. All that bacon rage inspired us to have a second and final showdown to find the true winner of the title “Best Bacon in Victoria”. This time around we took our top two from round one, Red Barn’s bacon and Ravenstone’s Bacon, and included the ever so popular Glenwood Meats’ Bacon and Carnivore’s Bacon. We partnered with local news and event media outlet Victoria Buzz to get the word out and encourage the public to come participate and have their say.

So now the time has finally come to announce the winners of our “Best Bacon in Victoria” Showdown we hosted on Saturday at the Victoria Public Market. The turnout was fantastic, with family, friends, and the general public coming in droves to have their say in the matter. We served a variety of appetizers (links to the recipes below), each one using the bacon showcased from our different local suppliers. We also had an official judging, and then opened it up to a people’s choice sampling and vote. Here are the much anticipated results!

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The Bacon

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[acc_item title=”Carnivore“]

The Carnivore Story: Carnivore’s owner Ian MacDonald has a long history selling packaging products to butchers around the island. A few years ago, he met a family of 4th and 5th generation farmers in Cowichan Valley running a farm that raises 100% grass fed beef and lamb, which is also nearly 100% grass finished. Ian built his business around this supplier, as well as a few small poultry suppliers from the Cowichan Bay area. Ian buys product from exclusively small scale family farmers, and receives the freshest deliveries 3 times per week, which arrive just 1 day after processing.

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The Bacon: All product at Carnivore is antibiotic, hormone, and steroid free. The beef and lamb is non-GMO grass fed; the other products are GMO grain fed. The bacon is island-produced pork belly, which is sent to Garland Smokehouse in Duncan to be treated for consumption. Garland Smokehouse currently uses locally-sourced Applewood chips from a heritage orchard undergoing revitalization; the wood comes from an extensive pruning process the orchard is undergoing in order to revive it. The brining and smoking process takes anywhere from 10 days to 2 weeks, immediately after which the product is picked up to be sold at Carnivore. Bacon quantities at Carnivore are limited because Ian does not buy up surplus pork belly to meet the demand; he uses only what is on each pig he buys, which usually means shoppers must be put on a waitlist for the next batch of bacon.

What is Ian’s personal favourite from his shop? Any lamb product, especially rib chops and double loin chops. The meat is very tender and flavourful, and though some people like it with tzatziki or mint sauce, but often just salt and pepper is best.

If Ian could tell the average grocery store shopper one thing about switching to your local butcher, what would it be? The focus should be on the locality and healthful benefits of buying locally raised, locally produced meats for both the animals and human consumers. There are many ethical reasons to avoid industrially-produced meats, but the health aspect is most important. Ian would tell shoppers that while his meat almost always comes from a singular animal, things like commercially-produced ground beef can come from up to 1,000 different animal sources, thus massively increasing a consumer’s chances of eating contaminated meat. Additionally, because Carnivore’s meats are all grass fed, the protein profile and flavour are a much higher quality.

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[acc_item title=”Red Barn Market“] 

 

Russ from Red Barn giving us the low-down on his bacon. Photo Credit: Tyson Airaksinen Photography

Russ from Red Barn giving us the low-down on his bacon. Photo Credit: Tyson Airaksinen Photography

 

The Red Barn Story: Russ Benwell and his business partners bought the Red Barn business 5 ½ years ago, with the philosophy of offering island made and island grown products where possible, with as little off-island sourcing as possible. The partners collectively share over 100 years of grocery industry experience. They currently own 4 locations, with plans to keep expanding around the island in the future.

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The Bacon: All pork belly is sourced from Britco Pork Inc. in Langley, BC, and is raised per conventional, commercial methods due to lack of sufficient local supply on the island to meet Red Barn’s needs. The pork belly is tumble brined to create a dryer, more evenly brined product. Red barn takes all their bacon (and many other products) to the smokehouse at their Vanalman location, where the pork belly undergoes a double hickory smoking process with their secret sweet cure.

What is Russ’s personal favourite at Red Barn? Definitely the bacon, Russ claims he’s never eaten as much bacon as he does since working at Red Barn, as well as the smoked pepperjack cheese they smoke themselves, and the pre-made bacon cheddar burger patties using red barn bacon, their own smoked cheese, and grass fed beef.

If Russ could tell the average grocery store shopper one thing about switching to your local butcher/grocer, what would it be? To just come and try their product, you’ll be hooked as soon as you do. It’s also about supporting locally produced goods – at the Red Barn butcher/deli counter, everything is marked with either black or white tags. Everything marked with a black tag has been made by Red Barn itself, which ensures locality and quality in all the product available; everything marked with a white tag, while also high in quality, has been sourced externally.

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The Glenwood Story: Glenwood Meats has been family owned and operated since the 1950s. They do all their own processing, curing, and smoking on-site, as well as custom curing and smoking for restaurants and other local vendors. Because of the high demand, Glenwood’s products are not sourced locally on the island; the beef is from Alberta, and all pork product comes from Britco Pork, Inc. in Langley, BC.

The Bacon: Their product is antibiotic and gluten free, but is GMO fed due to the commercial nature of its production. The bacon is tumble cured and smoked on-site; Glenwood offers a traditional side bacon, a sugar-cured side bacon, and many varieties of English and back bacon.

What is Rick’s personal favourite at Glenwood? Not beef tenderloin; although it’s tender in texture, it lacks flavor and character. Rick prefers a good bone-in rib steak with a nice marble on it.

If Rick could tell the average grocery store shopper one thing about switching to your local butcher, what would it be? Rick admits he’s never bought grocery store bacon, he finds it wet and homogenous in texture and not cooked in a smokehouse. Rick also wouldn’t eat grocery store bacon raw because it’s not carefully cured and smoked like Glenwoods product is, which could be eaten raw.

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Logan of Ravenstone Farms giving us the first-hand story of his delicious bacon! Photo Credit: Tyson Airaksinen Photography

Logan of Ravenstone Farms giving us the first-hand story of his delicious bacon! Photo Credit: Tyson Airaksinen Photography

The Ravenstone Story: Co-owner Logan’s parents retired about 10 years ago and moved to Qualicum Beach, where they found they were not yet ready to fully retire, and started a small farming operation. Eventually, Logan’s father and their business associate began experimenting with different homemade meat products, including bacon and sausages. Ravenstone started participating as a vendor at a few farmers markets, then expanded to many more markets, before opening their storefront in the Victoria Public Market. Their store is fully stocked by their own farm, as well as an associate’s farm. The farms operate on the philosophy of fully pasture-raised animals, with largely grass feed and some grain feed. Where the two farms are insufficient to meet demand, Ravenstone sources all other products from exclusively small island farmers who pasture-raise their animals.

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The Bacon: The bacon is all gluten and antibiotic/steroid free, but is not GMO free due to lack of affordable non-GMO feed. The pork belly is brined for 1 week, then cooked in a steam pot, then finally smoked using wood chips from broken-down whiskey barrels. During the smoking process, the pork belly is also sprayed with bourbon. Ravenstone slices their bacon thick, and leaves the rind on for added flavor and crunch when cooked.

What is Logan’s personal favourite? A good ribsteak and some Dungeness crab, as well as some Ravenstone spicy Sicilian sausage.

If Logan could tell the average grocery store shopper one thing about switching to your local butcher, what would it be? That people should just come in and chat with their local suppliers, and learn more about the full life cycle of the meat they eat from farm to fork. The more people learn about the practices of local farmers vs. commercial producers, the better connected people become to their food and the people who raise and produce it.

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Photo cred: Tyson Airaksinen Photography

Photo Credit: Tyson Airaksinen Photography

The Judges

Robert Kowbel: Former local food blogger, full time foodie

Wyatt Robinson: Local lumberjack and bacon enthusiast

Ash Peters: Ticketed butcher

Clark Deutscher: Owner, Hank’s Untraditional BBQ

 

The Criteria

1. Saltiness [on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being nicely balanced and 1 being either too salty or not salty enough]

2. Texture [on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being a good meat to fat ratio, and 1 being either too fatty or too lean]

3. Flavour [on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being most satisfied with the flavour, and 1 being dissatisfied]

4. Versatility [on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being versatile and useful both on its own or used in a recipe, and 1 being ill-suited for a variety of purposes]

The total possible score for any one contender ended up being a maximum of 20 points. 

 

Photo Credit: Tyson Airaksinen Photography

Photo Credit: Tyson Airaksinen Photography

The Results

Carnivore: 

1. Robert Kowbel noted that the bacon was a little on the salty side, with a firm, chewy texture, a high fat to meat ratio, and a good smokey flavour, though rated it low for versatility. He gave it a cumulative score of 11. 

2. Wyatt Robinson thought this bacon was really salty in the first bite, but weakened as he took a second bite. He thought the overall depth of flavour wasn’t strong enough, and didn’t like the type of smoke. He gave it full points for texture and scored it high for versatility. He gave it a cumulative score of 15. 

3. Ash Peters found the saltiness of this bacon to be very well balanced and the bacon was nicely smoked. He commented it would make a great burger bacon because of it’s neutral flavour. The meat itself had a firmer dryer texture. He gave it a cumulative score of 15.

4. Clark Deutscher thought this bacon had a decent smoky flavour while being neutral in flavour and well balanced with regards to saltiness and therefore very versatile. As for texture he found it quite tough and chewy. He gave it a cumulative score of 15.

Glenwood: 

1. Robert enjoyed this bacon’s higher salt content, and gave it a 4/5 for good texture. He noted that this bacon was quite smokey in a good way, and thought it would be highly versatile as both a breakfast bacon and a bacon he could cook with in other recipes. He gave it a cumulative score of 16.5. 

2. Wyatt thought the saltiness was well balanced in this bacon, and also gave it a 4/5 for good meat to fat ratio in the texture. However, he scored it low in flavour and versatility, noting that the flavour didn’t really stand out, and he didn’t think he would use it in many applications beyond breakfast. He gave it a cumulative score of 12. 

3. Ash Peters felt this bacon had a good salt level and a very balanced meat to fat ratio with the fat lending a lot of flavour in this bacon. Ash also found this bacon to be a tad on the sweeter side but very versatile none the less. He gave this one a total of 15 points.

4. Clark Deutscher found the saltiness of this bacon perfectly balanced with no predominant flavours and therefore very versatile. He found the fat to meat ratio to be well balanced and gave full points for texture. He gave it a cumulative score of 18.

Red Barn: 

1. Robert noticed this bacon was much meatier than the last two, with a unique, sweeter flavour, and a “good funk”. He thought the saltiness and texture were well balanced, and scored it a 4/5 for both flavour and versatility. He gave it a cumulative score of 14.5. 

2. Wyatt initially thought this bacon was a tad weak on the salt content, but said it was smoked perfectly with great flavour, and had a good fall-apart tenderness as he ate it. He gave it a cumulative score of 17. 

3. Ash Peters found this bacon to be quite low in salt with a predominantly sweet flavour profile. He really enjoyed the flavour of this bacon and for him it was very well balanced and therefore very versatile. He scored this bacon 18 points.

4. Clark Deutscher didn’t prefer the sweet flavour of this bacon and found it not quite smoky enough. He found it less fatty and therefore a bit chewy. Because of it’s sweetness he rated it low for versatility. Overall he gave it a cumulative score of 9.

Ravenstone: 

1. Robert scored this bacon high in salt balance, flavour, and versatility. He noticed right away how wide and meaty the slice of bacon was, but thought because there was such a high meat content, it was much leaner and therefore tough to chew. He really enjoyed the smokey flavour, noting that the type of smoke seemed unique. He gave it a cumulative score of 15. 

2. Wyatt also rated this bacon lower for the leaner texture, saying it was a bit too tough for his liking. However, he rated it high in salt balance, flavour, and veratility, stating he would definitely cook with this bacon and enjoyed the flavour. He gave it a cumulative score of 12.5. 

3. Ash Peters found this bacon to be the most chewy of the lot and also felt it to be the bacon with the most distinguishing flavour. He found the saltiness to be well balanced and overall very versatile. He scored it a total of 17 points.

4. Clark Deutscher noticed that the rind is left on this bacon which gives it it’s unique chewy texture which he enjoyed. He found this bacon to be very well balanced with regards to saltiness and it had a good cured flavour. Overall this bacon received a score of 18.

Photo Credit: Itkasan Images

Photo Credit: Itkasan Images

Price Comparison

Carnivore: $2.20/100g

Glenwood: $1.54/100g

Red Barn: $1.89/100g,   $2.19/100g (local Metchosin Pork)

Ravenstone: $2.75/100g

The Best of the Best

And now for the highly anticipated results. Well, I guess we’re not surprised that the judges were evenly split – 2 for Red Barn, and 2 for Glenwood! We would like to note that we had planned on a 5th judge to break any tie that might arise, but a last minute cancellation left us with this deadlocked vote. Fortunately, we have the results from the people’s choice ballots! The clear winner here was Red Barn, with Ravenstone a close second, and Glenwood and Carnivore tied for third place. We’d like to give the honorary award of “Most Local Bacon” to Carnivore, for their use of exclusively Vancouver Island pork belly and island-sourced wood chips. 

All About the Pig

We really enjoyed doing this challenge and chatting with owners from each establishment to learn more about them, their story and the story of their bacon. Sure we love local product as much as the next locavore but unfortunately with the high demands at establishments like Red Barn market and Glenwood Meats there simply isn’t enough supply of pork belly locally to meet these demands. If local is important to you then look to Ravenstone Farms’ bacon or Carnivore’s bacon. Red Barn has a local option using the same award winning (I guess we can say that now) recipe for only 30cents more per 100g. All in all we encourage trying these fantastic local products, not only do they taste great but they’re most often cheaper than grocery store bacon. Buying local also gives you the opportunity to learn where your product is coming from and who is responsible for making it taste so darn good!

The Recipes

We wanted to create appetizers that would showcase the versatility and flavour of bacon the best. We tried to use the various bacon varieties we tested today in these recipes.

Beef & Bacon Sausage Rolls

Bourbon Bacon Jam

Bacon & Feta Guacamole

Bacon & Cheddar Scones

Bacon & Sausage Mini Arancini

Also here’s the link to our first ‘Best Bacon in Victoria’ article so you can see how some other contenders placed the first time around http://fancyfrites.com/2014/05/25/best-bacon-victoria/