Sep 022017
 

by @WidowPage

Before I show you the curing process, we need to talk about salt and how it turns pork belly into bacon.  Curing doesn’t happen without salt.  If you look back into the history of bacon, humans all over the world were packing pork belly into salt to preserve the meat.  The Chinese and Europeans started curing meat as early as 1500 BC.  According to the Pork Board of America, Hernando de Soto’s herd of 13 pigs sparked early conflicts with Native Americans who developed a fondness for the taste of pork.  His herd eventually grew to 700 hogs, not including those that were eaten or ran away to breed and become ancestors of today’s feral hogs in the Southeast.

While I don’t know the exact process de Soto’s contemporaries used to cure bacon, they had to have used salt.  Today, everyone uses pink salt or Prague Powder or Curing Salt #1.  Some might confuse it with Himalayan salt.  Don’t do that.  These are 2 different substances.

Both could be called pink salt, but only use curing salt for bacon.

Most Himalayan salt comes from Pakistan which means it should really be called Pakistan salt, but that doesn’t quite have the mystery or cache of Himalayan salt.  Thanks marketing team!  It is purer than table salt, but it is the impurities that give it its pink color.  Some people claim it has special health benefits, but I just find it tasty on baked red potatoes.

Curing salt was trademarked back in 1925 as Prague Powder by Karl Max Seiffert.  He turned around and sold his patent to Griffith Laboratories in 1934.  Here’s the super cool thing about this…I am not from Chicago but I lived here for more than 20 years and love Chicago’s history.  Griffith Laboratories was started in Chicago in the 1900s by a father and son who assumed ownership of a pharmacy.  The son backed out of attending agricultural school at U of Illinois and went Northwestern to study pharmacology.  Once he graduated, he and his father changed their company direction to “bring science to the food industry”.  They initially focused on bread and baking, but in 1934, they bought Seiffert’s patent and began distributing it across the country.  Griffith Labs still exists today as Griffith Foods and their global headquarters are in Alsip, Illinois.  You can buy Prague Power directly from them OR order it off Amazon.

Curing Salt #1

My curing salt came from Williams Sonoma.  When you buy curing salt for bacon, make sure you get Curing Salt #1.  Curing Salt #2 is meant for cuts of meat that cure for longer periods of time.  Think pastrami or ham.

Curing salt is also known as pink salt.  Manufacturers dye it this color to distinguish it from table salt.  Curing salt should NOT be consumed or used like table salt.  It contains 6.25% sodium nitrite which is what prevents the growth of botulism or the other icky things that grow in meat over time.  We will apply this salt to the pork bellies but will rinse it off once it does its job.  Do not use curing salt for any other purpose.

Tired of salt?  Fret not. Tomorrow’s post will be all about combining curing salt with other seasonings and getting on with the bacon process.  Lots of cool pictures and much fun.

Sep 012017
 

by @WidowPage

Yesterday as I muddled through a data reconciliation, my oldest daughter texted me “Your meat is here”.  My daughters aren’t really that interested in my bacon curing projects but they knew I had been waiting for 100 lbs of pork belly to arrive on my front porch.  My youngest even obliged me with a picture.  I couldn’t get home for another 3 hours and there was no way the girls would be able to carry that much weight into the house.  All I could do it count the minutes until I could get home and dig into the boxes.

I’ve worked for Morningstar for almost 11 years.  During that time, I’ve learned so much about markets, trading and economics.  Morningstar was founded in Chicago which, at one time, boasted of being the hog butcher to the world.  Frozen pork bellies were traded as a commodity on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange under the symbol PB (electronic symbol GPB) starting in 1961. There’s more info about commodity trading here.

 

3 of the pork bellies

If you are interested in following pork commodity information, Urner Barry Pork tweets a lot of market information under the handle of @UBpork.  Did you know there were $17.554 million of pork bellies in cold storage in July?  That sounds like a lot to me but this number signals an industry-wide shortage.  Urner Barry has the details which, even for a hobby baconista, are really fascinating.  They also cover egg, seafood and beef market trends.

Once I got home, I broke into the boxes and hauled the 4 frozen bellies into the houses individually.  Factory farm-raised hog bellies run around 18 lbs.  These bellies, raised on smaller farms with a little more care, ranged from 20-30 lbs apiece.  This was the biggest one (pictured to the right…underneath it is my 6-burner stovetop…just for reference) after I cut it up .  Once it was sliced into 4 pieces, the smallest piece weighed 7.3 lbs.

1 pork belly cut into 4 pieces

When these 4 pieces thaw, the next step is to apply a cure and let them sit for a week to 10 days.  I cut the belly up because over the next four posts, I am going to show you how to prep the following:

  • Maple-Cured Bacon
  • Red Wine-Cured Bacon (throwing in an experiment with port wine on this one)
  • Bourbon & Brown Sugar Bacon
  • Black Pepper Bacon

Stay with me folks.  If you like bacon, I hope these next few posts will convince you to start making your own.

Aug 312017
 

By @WidowPage

This isn’t the way I intended to start this blog. I imagined my first post would be pictures unveiling huge boxes of soon-to-be bacon and describing the mouth watering ways I would convert it into bacon, but my pork belly order has yet to arrive. It was supposed to leave Iowa on Monday, August 21 and get here in Illinois the following day. It’s now Wednesday, August 30 and the magical box of pork belly has yet to appear. I’m hoping for the best and a call to the farmer did reassure me.

In the meantime, this delay gives us the chance to cover some background info. I’ve been a DBA for 15 years and met Bob working together at Morningstar. But you are here for the bacon, so let’s focus on that. Roughly 9 years ago, my dad cleaned out and welded an old oil drum into a smoker and presented it to my husband for a Christmas present. We joked that it was the largest smoker in our Chicago suburb. It’s huge and we could smoke 4 turkeys at once on it. My husband used it a lot and I assisted.

My Smoker

When my husband died, I ignored the smoker for a good year. I had plenty of other things to manage and it wasn’t on my radar. I finally resurfaced and started using it again for the customary brisket, hams and ribs.

About 4 years ago, I had an epiphany. I wanted to smoke something different and I decided to try bacon. I was surprised how easy it was and how much better it tasted than store bought. You just put the bacon in the cure, let it sit for a week and then cook it to about 140 degrees. That’s it. So simple and so much better than the stuff you get from Oscar Meyer.

At some point in my bacon adventures, I started researching heritage hog breeds and that lead me to the following article in the New York Times about the work Carl Blake was doing establishing a heritage hog farm in Iowa.  The description of the pork was mouth watering.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/01/us/with-iowa-swabian-hall-a-farmers-quest-for-perfect-pig.html?mcubz=1

I contacted Blake begging for a pork belly. That was about three years ago. Last week he posted on his Facebook page that he had boxes of Mangalitsa bellies for sale. If you’ve not heard of Mangalitsa hogs, they are a Hungarian breed, rare in this country as the hogs don’t grow well in industrialized farm settings. Google “fuzzy pigs” and you’ll also learn that they are the Kobe beef of the hog world. Their high fat content means much more flavor than regular hogs and makes for excellent bacon.

Mangalitsa hog are also known as fuzzy pigs

As soon as I saw Blake’s post, I called him asking to buy 2 boxes of pork bellies. That’s 100lbs and is probably excessive but I’ve waited three years to get a chance to do this.

Knowing how much bacon is revered in DBA circles, I asked Bob if I could use his blog to share this bacon adventure and he obliged.  My plan is to to walk you through the entire curing and smoking process complete with photos of every step and the final product.  I hope you will stick around for the whole bacon process.

Postscript: I came home yesterday to two huge boxes on my porch. My next post will show you exactly what 100 lbs of pork belly looks like.

May 112017
 

Thank you to all who attended my session on “Passive Security for Hostile Environments” back on the 3rd of this month. I consider it an honor to be part of such a wonderful lineup. I just received my evaluations and comments, and am very happy to report that the results were extremely positive. Thank you very much to the people who took the time to rate my presentation and offer feedback, which I will include below.

I was also very surprised to hear that my session had 193 attendees, which puts it in the top five in terms of attendance – wow!

If you weren’t able to attend but would like to check it out, a recording is now available.

My slide deck is available for download on the 24 Hours of PASS site.

Demo scripts and other resources are available here.

Feedback

Sessions were evaluated based on four questions, and I received 78 total responses.

  1. How would you rate this session overall?
    Excellent: 60    Good: 18     Average: 0     Fair: 0     Poor: 0
  2. How would you rate the speakers’ presentation skills?
    Excellent: 64     Good: 13     Average: 0     Fair: 0     Poor: 0
  3. How would you rate the speakers’ knowledge of the subject?
    Excellent: 71      Good: 6      Average: 0     Fair: 0     Poor: 0
  4. Did you learn what you expected to learn from this session?
    Agree: 67     Somewhat Agree: 7     Neutral: 3     Somewhat Disagree: 0     Disagree: 0

I also received the following comments:

  • excellent demos and real deep dive into the details of each area he covered.
  • Your demo scenarios were very effective in showing the strengths and weaknesses of each option. Well done.
  • great use of demos!
  • Thank you!
  • Great presentation. Good demos – be great to get a copy of the scripts.
  • I had a lot of familiarity with DDL/DML triggers and Event Notifications. There were some new aspects you showed that I had not considered. Impersonation, for instance. Policy based management is something I haven’t used, but have read about. The session helped reinforce what I’ve learned in the past. Slide decks are great. But I prefer live demos and the code. You had a good, complementary mix of both.
  • Wow, this was incredibly good! So well organized. You covered a lot of territory.
  • Great overview of the different tech
  • Very clear explanations and demos, great pace for a webinar. Packed full of useful examples for real projects. Thank you!

 

Apr 242017
 

I’m extremely proud to be speaking at the upcoming 24 Hours of PASS: Data Security and Data Quality webinar on May 3-4 2017. For years now I’ve been wanting to present for 24 Hours of PASS, and I’m very excited and grateful for the opportunity!

If you’re not familiar, 24 Hours of PASS is a series of 24 free webcasts delivered over 24 hours. My presentation, “Passive Security for Hostile Environments” is on May 3rd at 15:00 GMT!

Here’s the abstract:

Ideal database security settings usually exist in books, but rarely in reality. Is your CIO a member of the sysadmin role because they demanded it? Or maybe some users have rights for purely political reasons? Just because you can’t enforce security through typical means doesn’t mean you’re powerless. Attend this session to learn about the features SQL Server provides that will allow you to keep track of what your users are up to at all times and sleep a little easier. Through various scenarios and demos, see how technologies such as event notifications, auditing, and extended events can help ensure nothing happens on your system without you knowing about it. Even in optimally secured environments these techniques can still come in handy. The best security is often that which cannot be seen.

Sound interesting? Sign up today! Registration is open, and you can sign up for my session along with all of the others here.