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Arbiter of Bacon

September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day. I’ve got nothing new to say on the matter that I haven’t said before. Hopefully you get to take the day off work and use the time to reflect on the past few months of summer, which are rapidly coming to a close.

I’m off to Pennsylvania, again. There’s apparently a Wegmans just off the highway in Wilkes-Barre that will make a glorious place to pick up my children. The first half of the drive will be lovely, peaceful and quiet. The second half will bring the past few days of childless living to a crashing halt.

Luckily I got to enjoy the hell out of my time without the kids. And that included serving as one of the three judges for the Bacon Cook-Off at the first annual Bacon Fest. If you came down to Hudson yesterday to participate in this event, you probably relearned a hard lesson: the early bird gets the bacon.

The first time you do anything is hard. There were only a handful of vendors because restaurants weren’t sure people would show up to this thing. But oh how wrong they were. People showed up by the trainful. Literally.

Blame a little newspaper called The New York Post. They ran a story on the event the day prior, and drew what organizers were saying was thousands more people than they expected.

Good news is that next year there will be both more vendors and more food. It was also good for the vendors who did decide to participate in this first year of the festival and were rewarded with sales exceeding their expectations.

Bad news is that lots of people came to Bacon Fest and didn’t get any bacon.

Luckily, most vendors saved three portions of their dishes for the judges. A few decided to scrap the competition and feed the hungry masses. But Steve Barnes, Byron Nilsson and myself still ate our way through a lot of bacon. A few dishes stood out. Only one was particularly awful.

Here’s the rundown of the notable ones.

Bacon wrapped rib topped with bacon bbq sauce – That was one tasty rib. Not only did the bacon take on a deep dark lacquered color, the bacon’s fat was well rendered, and the pork pulled cleanly off the bone. Its sauce added a nice level of heat, which helped to cut through the richness of the morsel. It was among my two favorite savory dishes.

Bacon wrapped Hawaiian-style hot dog – This was surprisingly good. Sometimes bacon doesn’t adhere well to hot dog, but in this dish the two were as one. There may have been just a smidge too much pineapple sauce, but it was well balanced out with onion and a spicy drizzle that reminded me of pickapeppa. With a balance of flavors, and a mouth-filling sense of deliciousness, this won the savory category.

The chocolate bourbon bacon cupcake with bacon cream cheese frosting topped with bacon – Wow. This had just a little bit too much bacon, but still, wow. It won the sweet category despite being wrapped in bacon. That bacon wrapping just didn’t quite stay crisp, and texturally, it was a little challenging. But putting bacon fat in the cream cheese frosting was hard core. So were the spiced bacon bits on top. As a cupcake, this beat out any of the ones we had in the cupcake challenge. And as a sweet bacon dish, it just blew the doors off everything else.

Maple and bacon gelato – This was delicious. The gelato base was rich and dense, and it left the palate cleanly. It was sweet without being cloying, and the bits of candied bacon that were lurking within went surprisingly well with the gelato. If only there had been more bacon. It was a little bit sparse, and this was Bacon Fest after all.

I’m going to try and forget about the bacon milkshake. Imagine if you will, taking crispy bacon and putting it in a blender. Millions of little sandy bits of bacon get dispersed in a sweet and foamy substrate. There was no getting over the texture. It was like drinking a cup full of cold, sweet, salty, meaty sand. And those little bits just kept on giving. Kind of like when you get sand in your mouth at the beach. It wasn’t very pleasant.

For those who are curious about the other dishes, I could pick nits all day. I had high hopes for Slidin’ Dirty, but their bacon and butternut squash egg rolls needed some focus. The bacon rice crispy treats suffered from some weird artificial aftertaste, likely driven by the choice of marshmallow, and in Sweet Sue’s bacon goat cheese truffle the bacon got drowned out by the other competing flavors.

The bacon rollup, which was really just a variation on the famous Bacon Explosion, was a lot of bacon but was dragged down by inferior sausage. These things may be impressive on paper in how much bacon and pork they involve. But in practice they don’t live up to the hype.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what the Bacon Fest organizers do for a second act.

I think it would be wise in the future to encourage vendors to reduce the size and price of the dishes they sell to the public, so attendees can have a better chance to try a wide range of items over the course of the afternoon. And you know, bring more food. But they are keenly aware of that last point.

Plus I’m thrilled to walk away with the knowledge that Pippy’s Hot Dog Truck not only exists, but is excellent and occasionally sells a Banh Mi hot dog. Also Lazy Crazy Acres Creamery is now on my radar, and it should be on yours too.

Oh. I almost forgot. The organizers of Bacon Fest gave me a lovely parting gift which included two kinds of bacon soap and one kind of bacon candle. If you made it down to Hudson and left hungry because you were bummed by the lines or because they ran out of food let me know, and you’ll be entered into a random drawing to win the gift box. But the contest is open to everyone. So if you thought Bacon Fest was great, tell me about it. Or if you didn’t go, but wish you were able to try one of the foods above, tell me which one. tickles your fancy. Comments need to be made below and before midnight on Wednesday.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Rebecca permalink
    September 3, 2012 9:59 am

    “restaurants weren’t sure people would show up to this thing”?! um. restaurants? it’s BACON.

  2. September 3, 2012 12:01 pm

    Well, that explains why when we got there at 1pm (which to me wasn’t even that late since they had 5 hours to go!) they were out of bacon. I’m glad to know the reason — i figured it was just 1st year kinks.

    That is certainly bad practice for the Post. They should have given the festival organizers a warning about the press. That’s just good PR. The Post especially should of known how their press could influence a small festival’s attendance. Shame on them.

  3. Cindy permalink
    September 3, 2012 2:11 pm

    We arrived at 11am with high hopes and left by 12 noon rather disappointed. There just wasn’t too much there. It was great that admission went to charity, but we’re not sure why they were charging $10 per person ($40 for our family of 4) – not sure what we really got for that. Please don’t reduce the portion sizes next year – portions from booths in the tent were a little small. Prices for food in the tent were too high, except for bottled water. $7 for a small pulled pork sandwich that wasn’t even very good. The highlight for our bacon maniac son seemed to be the chocolate covered bacon. I realize it was the first year, but I doubt we will make the hike back down next year. Sorry to be so negative!

  4. September 3, 2012 2:53 pm

    This is what I fear. This is why I am kind of against high speed rail in NYS (in a tongue in cheek sort of way, but probably a bit seriously too). I spend a lot of time down in the Hudson River Valley which is for the most part within a reasonable commute for NYC residents. Should any event be mentioned in the NYC press, should any small village be deemed “quaint/cute” in some NY Times piece, should any farm stand be revealed as having the best whatever by some NYC blogger, then gird your loins for the invasion. That event/location has just become intolerable (at least for me). Try going punkin’ pickin’ in lower Orange County in a couple months…

    Now I know it may not be cool to be intolerant towards NYC types, but I can’t help myself. There are just so many of them! Imagine if the Delmar farmer’s market were a 30-45 minute commute from NYC? It would quickly become somewhere that I would never go. First crowds, then pandering to crowds. It would quickly become a parody of itself.

    This is the crisis of Upstate New York in the 21st century. How does a state, sprinkled with small cities ringed by suburbs within a vast ocean of rural farms and mountainous expanses deal with the influx of urbanized folks from one of the biggest mega-polises in the world? I just don’t know.

    We are relatively safe and removed up here in Albany County, but guess what? Those wild eyed city folk are pushing their way up the NYS thruway. Now I know I sound like some disturbed xenophobe, but I am half-kidding about most of this. I just think all of us up here have carved out a nice little cultural niche and way of life. I would not like to see our Upstate culture go the way of the 8-track. I have seen the future and it is Manhattanites buying farms in Duanesburg and throwing elbows into my ribcage at vegetable stands. It makes me shudder.

    • September 4, 2012 12:37 pm

      It’s actually a quite popular pasttime out here in the country to refer to the influx of city folks as “citiots.” I dread the traffic on rt. 9 heading up to Golden Harvest this time of year.

    • September 5, 2012 4:36 pm

      As someone who grew up around Saratoga Springs, with its annual influx of downstate jerks with no manners whatsoever and a sense of entitlement the size of SPAC, I’m with you on this.

    • September 5, 2012 5:09 pm

      Even though you’re kidding… Half-kidding… obviously-not-at-all kidding, a 30-45 minute train from NYC is very far fetched. (It would be incredible even if that travel time was doubled). Plus that would only be to the Rensselaer train station, so add the additional travel time to your local farmers market.

      First off, how many people do you think would travel 150 miles to raid your favorite vegetable stand, no matter how fast they’re able to get here, when they’re surrounded by probably the best selection of food on the east coast? Of course, the realistic area of potential customers *would* increase… and you think that the local businesses, organizers, and vendors up here wouldn’t kill to have that additional market to draw business from?

      Not to mention that YOU would also benefit from the shorter travel time *to* the city.

      Sorry, but I find that way of thinking ridiculous.

      • September 5, 2012 5:28 pm

        The high speed rail thing was a complete device for a broader theme, i.e. NYC people colonizing Upstate NY. I was putting nowhere near as much thought into the logistics as you.

        Never underestimate the number of people who view the quaintness of Upstate NY as something to be ogled at and viewed as a museum.

        The NYC has nothing I need, I avoid it at all costs. Please don’t blather at me about the “museums” and “cultural opportunities.” Trust me, I don’t care.

        I understand a certain degree of reactionary butt-hurtedness may stem from my comments, but I am simply saying that I believe there is a certain charm in the way of life of many Upstate New Yorkers and that it is in peril.

  5. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    September 3, 2012 5:14 pm

    Well said, Mr. Dave. I share your anxieties.

    • Lorayne permalink
      September 4, 2012 8:00 pm

      Well get used to it, Mr. Dave and Sunshine and Kvorwald. Y’all might have been here first, but ask the “Indians” how that turned out. You sound like the type of people often referred to by wide eyed urbanites as “hicks”.

      • September 5, 2012 3:47 pm

        “Hicks?” You mean those people of whom it has become a cottage industry among so many urbanites to so artlessly imitate?

  6. Reign permalink
    September 3, 2012 7:30 pm

    For an inaugural event, the price for vendors was high. $200 is high for an unproven event and a reason many did not want to vend.

  7. September 4, 2012 2:33 am

    That bacon milkshake does sound like a major disappointment. Having tried Michael Symon’s Vanilla Bean Apple Pie Bacon milkshake at his B Spot restaurant in Cleveland, though, I can say that there are good ways to get bacon into a shake.

    The gelato certainly does sound appealing, though. And the cupcake. Oh, the rib, too. Nice recap.

  8. September 4, 2012 10:01 am

    I can personally vouch for the horribleness of the bacon milkshake. Honestly, I’d be fine with the bits of bacon if they were captured in ice cream, like a true shake. However, in watching the shake being made much bacon and milk were added, but alas, only 2 spoons of ice cream. This wasn’t just a bad bacon shake, it was a bad shake period. What I got was a cup full of gritty bacon milk. Cannot believe I paid $4 for that thing. Oh, and would it kill you to drizzle a little maple in there?

  9. September 4, 2012 12:35 pm

    I’m glad I got there when I did (around 11). We were able to sample a few items, which I posted about on my blog. I was disappointed I didn’t get to try the bacon ice cream. I was also really surprised at the lack of vendors and lack of actual bacon to buy – only one table selling packaged bacon to bring home? In the Hudson Valley? Really? Crazy. Hopefully next year will be bigger and better, with more vendors (and more bacon).

  10. PJT permalink
    September 4, 2012 3:12 pm

    “There were only a handful of vendors because restaurants weren’t sure people would show up to this thing. But oh how wrong they were.” The exact same thing happened at the Ramp Fest at Basilica Hudson in Hudson this spring. We arrived about 2:00 and found most of the vendors had run out of everything and had left. The event was supposed to go from 12:00 to 4:00.

    • Chelle permalink
      September 7, 2012 11:46 am

      Same thing happened a few years ago at the Slow Foods Festival in Chatham. I was there at 11 am, and there was little food left. But that’s where I discovered Joshua Needleham of Chocolate Springs. Worth every penny of the entrance fee.

  11. Debra permalink
    September 4, 2012 5:29 pm

    I was SO disappointed on Sunday. I was one of the people that arrived at 12:30 to an annoyingly overflowing tent of people & what vendors I could view were selling their products originally. I just thought: what the heck did I just pay 10 dollars for? I received nothing but obvious disppointment & had to go home to cook some Oscar’s bacon to enjoy my own little “Bacon Fest”. Didn’t even see Mario Batali even though it was rumoured he showed up early afternoon – Sorry Mario – no food for you. Would love to win the soap or candle though – I still love me my bacon, just not the Bacon Fest so much.

  12. Jackie permalink
    September 5, 2012 12:12 pm

    I really wanted to go, but now I’m glad I didn’t, because I surely wouldn’t have rolled in until past noon. Had I made it, I would have loved to try the bacon cupcake. Your description made my mouth water.

  13. September 5, 2012 4:34 pm

    From Albany, I got there at around noon, paid the $10 entry, and quickly found the vendors to be running out of bacon-related wares, then the other non-bacon food as well. This after waiting on line for 20 minutes. I did happen to snag the bacon-filled brat (disappointing), but my friends gave up after 20 minutes in the sun with no movement at the slider truck. Samples? I didn’t even know there were samples in the first place. I think that when the samples ran out (and not at 2:00 when I left), the organizers should have lowered or cut the admission price (I can understand paying for the tent, chairs, music, which was easily paid for early on, and I know it went to charity, but otherwise what do you get for $10?). And the one rib place in the corner (with the rice krispie treats) was terribly disorganized, with no system for keeping track of who ordered when, such that they gave food to people after you in line, and had no regard for this when brought to their attention. Then they ran out of food. And their rice krispie treats were stale and soggy. I will need some seriously heavy assurances of improvement from the organizers if I am to return next year.

  14. September 5, 2012 8:56 pm

    That hot dog sounds great! Bacon milkshake? HMM. I know bacon and sweet can go together. I had it covered in chocolate and in a crepe with apples. However, my mind is still curious about the shake.

    I wanted to attend Baconfest but was too tired from my Finger Lakes trip. Next year! I’ll leave early and bring home the bacon. Or to avoid the crazy crowds, see what vendors are going to appear and make stops there.

    Hey Dan- Did the vendors make treats specifically for Baconfest? Or are these items on their menu or in stock at their places? Maybe both?

    A bacon candle sounds great. The warm aroma of bacon in the kitchen is perfect for fall.

  15. September 21, 2012 12:24 pm

    I want to put in a word for my friend and favorite soapmaker, Lee Lewis, who made the bacon soap and candles for the Baconfest. You can find her at the Delmar farmer’s market and on facebook!

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