Thursday, 19 April 2012
Eight years ago, we editorialized about the possibilities for an Iowa bacon festival, suggesting one could become a late summer equivalence of Wine Fest. Living History Farms picked up on that idea but their September bacon event died after two years. Like us, they were thinking in 20th century terms. Last summer, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange ended the trading of pork bellies (from which bacon is made) after a 50 year run that made them the media icon of all commodities futures. In the 20th century, pork belly contracts were heavily traded because buyers needed to reduce risk of price fluctuations, mainly driven by huge demand for BLTs during late summer when tomatoes ripened. In the 21st century, pork bellies were barely traded at all because bacon demand leveled out over all seasons.
This February, Des Moines’ Blue Ribbon Bacon Fest (BRBF) demonstrated that tomatoes need bacon more than vice versa. Once a mere bigamist married to both eggs and tomatoes, bacon now sluts around with everything from Pearl vodka, to Alsatian choucroute garni (Baru66), butterscotch cupcakes (Carefree Patisserie), peanut butter pizza (Gusto), and brown roux etouffee (Jethro’s). As bacon’s most conspicuous facilitator, BRBF has supplanted pork belly futures as a media icon. It drew: a front page story in the Wall Street Journal and a feature on National Public Radio; the ire of PETA and the Committee for Responsible Medicine; and a boycott by advocates of sustainable agriculture and animal welfare. Oooooo, bacon.
BRBF kicked off a week of celebrations with a “Bacon Elegance” dinner at Catering DSM. Chef Aaron King’s first course wrapped the chosen food around monkfish served on roasted tomato-Pernod cream studded with lardons (bacon).
His second course brought a spinach salad with blue cheese, candied walnuts, poached eggs and bacon - in a hot dressing that featured more bacon.
His main course wrapped bacon around a pork tenderloin rubbed with bacon sausage and sun dried tomatoes. It was served on bacon & squash risotto.
King’s root beer float was made with rye whiskey and home made bacon-coffee ice cream, served with a chocolate straw and a candied bacon spoon.
Officially, BRBF took a day off while Xi Jinping, the future leader of China, visited Des Moines. However, Embassy Club‘s Michael Bailey prepared an all Iowa menu for Xi that also loaded on both bacon and its pork cousin prosciutto. Canapés included BLT bites. Bailey’s first course presented a carrot-ginger terrine with prosciutto rosettes and bread. His main course featured bacon wrapped pork tenderloin, and beef tenderloin, with demiglace, onion rings, cheddar stuffed baked potatoes and sautéed butternut squash.
Politico wrote about nutritionists protesting Bailey’s menu. Mostly, they objected to the bacon. However Tibetan refugees, in Des Moines to protest Xi‘s visit, embraced both pork and beef while accounting for Gas Lamp’s busiest lunch ever. “They completely ate us out of Chicago dogs, meatball sandwiches and sausage sandwiches. They nearly cleaned us out of Italian roast beef sandwiches too,” explained Tommy Farrell.
Café di Scala hosted BRBF sponsors on Wednesday of Bacon Week. Chef Phil Shires presented: bacon wrapped dates stuffed with gorgonzola and toasted walnuts; puff pastry with scrambled eggs, cheddar, bacon and Béchamel sauce; pizzette with bacon vinaigrette, Gouda, more bacon, plus pancetta, onions and thyme; BLT sliders; and braised pork belly tacos in both Korean and Latin styles.
A Bacon Queen competition drew crowds to Johnny’s Hall of Fame on Thursday before Saturday’s grand finale hosted 4300 enthusiastic fans at the state fairgrounds (up from 1700 last year) with much vodka, beer and pork bellies.
Bottom line. BRBF is Iowa’s Lupercalia, the main outlet for youthful exuberance between New Years Eve and St. Patrick’s Day.
400 Locust, St., 508-0829
During BRBF, Bolton & Hay hosted a “Raw & Vegan Smoothies & Juices Workshop” which sold out at $60 per head.