Drum roll, envelope please. Friday, July 13, was a big day for Christchurch butcheries Ashby's Butchery and Cashmere Cuisine.
It was the day they both had to defend their 2011 titles of New Zealand Best Bacon and New Zealand Best Ham, respectively.
They battled it out with 54 dedicated craftsmen nationwide, including many new faces, for the coveted title of New Zealand's top producer of bacon and ham.
The panel of judges was presented with 158 different bacons and 74 ham entries across the various categories.
Tutors and students from Wel-Tech in Petone were kept busy ensuring all the bacon was cooked to perfection before being presented to the judges.
All entrants in the competition had to use 100% New Zealand Pork. The 100% New Zealand Pork pig-care accredited logo guarantees consumers they are buying pork that has been raised on New Zealand farms.
All retailers who put these labels on their packs are audited to prove that only New Zealand pork is being used.
The name bacon comes from the Germanic word "bak", meaning back, and has been adopted throughout most of the world. It is one of the oldest known ways of enjoying pork. The Romans served their own version of bacon with figs.
Although the name suggests the meat has come from the back of the carcass, the shoulder and leg are also commonly used.
Moving forward from the Roman era, about the 1600s, the ease of producing bacon made it affordable and it quickly became a staple for European peasants.
Englishman John Harris is credited as a forefather of the large-scale industrial production of bacon, having opened his company in Wiltshire about 1770.
Interestingly, Wiltshire is still considered the bacon capital of the world today.
About 1924, the first pre-packaged, sliced bacon was introduced to the United States by Oscar Mayer.
The phrase, "Bring home the bacon" has an interesting origin. In the 12th century, a church in Dunmow, Essex, offered a side of bacon to any man who could swear before God and the congregation that he had not fought or quarrelled with his wife for a year and a day. Any man who could "bring home the bacon" was highly respected in his community.
Although bacon is still presented at breakfast more than at any other meal time, it has become useful as an addition to many dishes. Today let's have a look at a delicious tart that we will top with New Zealand's best bacon.
GRUYERE AND TOMATO TART
75g chilled butter
About 3 Tbsp cold water
10 cherry tomatoes
6 free-range eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 rashers of New Zealand best bacon
200g gruyere cheese, roughly chopped
Method: Process the flour and roughly chopped butter in a food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs.
Slowly add the chilled water and pulse until a dough is produced.
Remove from the processor and shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for about 15-20 minutes until set.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to about 25cm in diameter.
Use this to line a 23cm loose-bottomed flan tin and return to the refrigerator and chill for about 10 minutes.
Line the pastry pan with baking paper and fill with pastry weights or uncooked rice and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
Remove the weights and paper and bake for a further 15 minutes or until golden brown.
While the pastry is cooking, remove the tops and small cores from the tomatoes and cut in half.
Beat the eggs with the milk and cream and season with the salt and pepper and cook the rashers of bacon.
Once the pastry tart shell has been cooked, place the tomatoes and gruyere cheese in the pastry shell and pour in the egg, milk and cream mixture.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until just set.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes, then remove from the pan.
Top the flan with some salad greens and the rashers of bacon.
Now let's open the envelope.
Ellesmere Butchery's sugar-cured middle bacon has been named Bacon of Year in the 100% New Zealand Bacon & Ham Competition 2012, beating 53 other butcheries for the top title.
The Christchurch-based business was the standout entry at the annual awards, with the judges choosing it as the tastiest rasher in the competition.
"Its raw presentation was absolutely stunning, it didn't falter from what it promised after it was cooked, you could tell there had been a lot of love and care applied to it, and it really had that personal touch to it," said head judge Anita Sarginson.
Although some butchers use an electric smokehouse and cookers to speed up the bacon-making process, Ellesmere Butchery is a firm believer in making bacon the time-tested way.
"It's a long process. You can't rush it. You have to let all the flavours all draw in," says Ellesmere Butchery's Chris Brown.
Precision is everything. The award-winning, sugar-cured rashers take about 10 days to perfect.
"You don't want bacon to go and stew. You want to draw as much moisture out as possible. Then we smoke it the traditional way," he says.
"I strive to have people love my product. If we do well in business along the way, then that's a plus.
"I guess that's why any butcher is in the game, because they love the job."
It's the fifth year in a row a Canterbury butchery has won the supreme award. Brown attributes the province's superior bacon-making skills to the passion Cantabrians put into every slice.
COOK'S NOTE: New Zealand's best bacon is not available in Invercargill, but we will be bringing it down and are more than happy to add to our order should anyone like to try it. Just phone us at Paddington Arms and we will organise some bacon for you.
Graham Hawkes runs Paddington Arms at the Queens Dr-Bainfield Rd roundabout
- The Southland Times