When I heard that Springville butcher Paul Giordano was auctioning off his meat shop, it made me want to say thanks for all the bacon. I haven't cooked anybody else's bacon for nearly a decade, and have delighted nearly everyone who shared it. Even some vegetarians (bacontarians?) have copped to dabbling in the Dark Side when it was passed around.
I know that Spar's Sausage (405 Amherst St.) makes their own smoked bacon. Does anyone else in Western New York do it that way, brining pork bellies and smoking them over actual wood? Please send tips to [email protected].
If you're interested in getting into the bacon business, or other meat-related activities, the link to the Sept. 20 auction, in Springville, is here.
And here's my original 2002 story about Giordano's father, Pat.:
PURSUING THE PERFECT BACON
PAT GIORDANO AND HIS SOUTHTOWNS SUPER SLAB.
You think you know bacon.
Shriveled, salty strips that come two ways, cracker-crisp or flabby. A panful of pork slices that reduces to an ocean of fat, dotted by curled husks you could remove with a tweezer.
But what if you found out you've been had, all these years?
Not everyone would care, certainly. But there are plenty of others - the sort of people who remember their first cool, brilliant swallow of fresh-squeezed orange juice, after a lifetime of from-concentrate orange flavor type liquid product. When they understood why law requires manufacturers to put "FROM CONCENTRATE" on the cartons.
When they began to notice the compromises, grand and small, imposed on American palates by the factory food complex.
Who could only hope dimly that one day, they would find someone like Pat Giordano.
It's not easy, when he refuses to advertise. But he doesn't have to. Not when people are willing to get in their cars and drive from Ohio or Pennsylvania for what he has to offer.
Many have made the pilgrimage two or three times a year for a decade or more, down Route 219 into Springville and then down into the Zoar Valley. Onto Trevett Road, down the hill, and across the creek and into his driveway.
"I always make sure that when he says the bacon's ready, that's when I go up," says James Eschborn, a machinist form Courtland, Ohio, outside Youngstown.
Eschborn, who learned about Giordano from a co-worker, hasn't bought bacon from a store since he tasted Giordano's 10 years ago.
"I wouldn't," says Eschborn. "I've gone without, out of necessity."
It's simply too late for him to buy store bacon. "It shrivels up away to nothing, and you get this little crumbly thing you can make croutons from, or bits you put on salad."
The trip from Ohio takes about three hours, Eschborn says. Though he visits relatives in Western New York, too, he times his arrival to coincide with Giordano's three-times-a-year bacon-making schedule.
That's a long way to go to bring home the bacon, a staple you could find at practically every convenience store and supermarket along the way.
But what Giordano, a retired Bethlehem Steel millwright, offers his customers is more than bacon - and sausage, and hams, and prosciutto, and sopressata, and whatever else he wants to turn out of his shop.
It's not just meat, not just proof that their palate is being cheated - it's the cure.
Last year, Giordano made about 4,000 pounds of bacon, and sold every slice.
It's not a mystical process. Giordano takes slabs of pork belly and uses a process that would have been at home in any 19th-century farmhouse. He cures the slabs for a week in a bath of sugar and salt, and smokes them for about 14 hours over hickory embers. That's it.
Compare that to a typical commercial bacon producer, who pressure-injects the meat with a nitrate solution and artificial smoke flavoring, turning warehouses of pork belly into bacon within 24 hours.
Giordano usually makes a smokier version and a lighter version, and will slice it thick or thin as he packages it for you. Or, you can take the eight-to-10 pound slabs to carve as you like.
So, home shoppers, how much would you expect to pay for handmade bacon, the kind of stuff fancypants purveyors label "artisanal" and offer for $7.99 a pound? How about $3.29, a buck and a half less than Oscar Mayer's MegaBaconCorp offering. (It varies a bit with pork prices, Giordano says, but hasn't gone over $3.49.)
Clearly, Giordano is being exploited by his customers. But he doesn't seem to mind.
In the hickory-scented workroom next to his home, Giordano proudly shows his operation to a visitor.
There's the massive meat grinder for sausage, plastic tubs of spices, and stainless steel hanging racks and prep tables. A steel rack draped with a skein of half-inch thick sausage, dried and smoked, rests in the cool shop. It's a Slim-Jim-like sausage, except it's bear, made from meat a hunter brought him.
Giordano's beef version, called "beef smokies," is another customer favorite, bought by the bundle by deer hunters heading down to their cabins. Giordano makes a spicy version and a tame one, both selling for $6.50 a pound - about one-third the retail price of Slim Jims.
They come by the "smokies" tag honestly. The scent radiates out of the paper bag Giordano supplies, making it a wise move to put the bag in the trunk for the long drive back from Springville.
Giordano also makes prosciutto, the famous air-dried Italian ham. In a humidity-controlled cooler behind his shop, hams and salamis hang from hooks in the ceiling, splotchy with gray-green mold.
"You need the mold or you don't get the flavor," Giordano says with a laugh.
The prosciutto hang for about 11 months, until they've dried into about half the size they started out, Giordano says.
They're his masterwork, and his sausagemaking is his heritage. But the bacon started with pure hunger.
We'll let him tell the story:
Back in 1971 or 1972, on one of his days off from Bethlehem Steel, he decided he wanted a bacon sandwich. Not a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich - a bacon sandwich, bacon on good Italian bread, finis.
So his wife Mary brought home a pound of bacon from the store, and cooked it. When Pat saw the result, he asked: "Why don't you cook the whole pound?"
"I did," she replied.
"But that's barely enough for a sandwich," he said, telling the story now. "There's nothing to it, and all I taste is salt."
What he wanted, Giordano says, was the bacon from his youth. Still a bit chewy when cooked, more like a slice of ham, something that didn't shrivel up into a potato chip when it was done, leaving behind in the eater's mouth primarily the sensation of crisp salt.
Fortunately, when Pat Giordano yearned for the bacon of his youth, he was equipped to do something about it. He grew up making sausage, and his father and uncle had a sausage shop on Lackawanna's Ingham Avenue for decades.
So he got some pork belly and tried out some of the recipes he'd gotten from some of the old farmers around Springville. He tinkered a bit until he'd created the bacon he remembered.
His business has grown by word of mouth over the decades, as he moved from Lackawanna into his former summer home in Springville and people kept seeking him out.
Now he sells three batches a year. One for Christmas, one for Easter and one in August - "when the tomatoes come in, so people can make their BLTs," Giordano says.
He'll be busy during deer season, through Dec. 8, processing deer. But if you call [number redacted], he or Mary Frances will still be entering customer orders for bacon, hams and sausage into his state-of-the-art database management system - a wire-bound spiral notebook.
After all the talk about bacon, our stomach rumbled like thunder, demanding empirical evidence. We bought a slab, sliced thick, and headed home to check the raves of Giordano's customers.
People do like to talk, so the test is in the pan.
The first alert that the bacon rules have changed is the aroma. Giordano's perfumes the room with hickory. In the frying pan, it cook instead of merely shriveling. It's oddly ungreasy, rendering out much less fat. We had to cook twice as much to gather enough for our standard crisp potato hash. Not that the extra bacon went to waste.
Cut an eighth-inch thick, Giordano's bacon has to be flipped like chops as it cooks. When it's done, it's shrunk by less than a quarter.
The taste? Richer, with a meaty chew and a satisfying hamlike flavor. It's slightly sweet, and much less salty than the commercial version.
To compare, we cooked up some store bacon, too. Side by side, we found that the store bacon has a chemical tang, a tinny echo on the tongue.
A piece of the slab, chopped into quarter-inch dice, takes on a crispy exterior in the saute pan while retaining a toothsomeness that lets its meatiness stand out in a robust tomato sauce, as in Bucatini All'Amatriciana.
In these fat-obsessed times, if you're going to bring home the bacon, you might as well drive to Springville and bring home something worth the caloric sacrifice. As you drive by the Burger King marquee on Cascade Drive, advertising its BACON CHEESEBURGER, forgive yourself a moment of smugness passing Trevett Road.
Because Giordano isn't going anywhere. He's even putting in an extra walk-in cooler for more capacity. Giordano says that he's not going to retire soon, and there's his son Paul around the corner on Zoar Valley Road, who butchers and makes ham and bacon, too. Taught him everything he knows.
Strictly speaking, bacon is about pork belly. But in Giordano's hands, it's all about heart.
"Geez, I don't know," Giordano says when you ask if he loves his work. "I just like to make people happy."