Oct. 9, 2017
The Pennsylvania Baconfest held each year in early November in Easton, Pennsylvania, has been attracting bacon lovers in the area to the festival for six years.
With the increasing interest in everything bacon – especially eating it – it’s no surprise that the number of bacon-themed events have surged nationwide and their festivities have evolved as well. There are more “bacon fests” each year – many of them now paired with beer or bourbon-based events, adding even more spirits to the festivals. In many cases, a portion of the profits from these events are donated to local charities.
Quite a few bacon festivals already have been held this year, with more scheduled for this fall and into early 2018. The Pennsylvania Baconfest will be held Nov. 4 and 5 in Easton, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia and New York.
“The Pennsylvania Baconfest, now on its sixth year, grew out of the Easton Farmers’ Market, America’s oldest, continuous open-air market, established in 1752,” says Liz Wyant, a festival organizer who is manager of special events and promotions for the Greater Easton Development Partnership. The two-day festival attracts more than 80,000 attendees and is held, rain or shine, at the roundabout at the very center of downtown Easton, extending three blocks in all four directions.
Attractions include bacon from many processors and retailers, bars to taste local beers, bourbon, regional cocktails and bloody marys, and many types of food. There will be a bacon-eating contest this year. Michael Pichetto, winner of last year’s Dueling Swine Pig Roast over Jeremy Bialker, executive chef of Two Rivers Brewing in Easton, says it’s ironic he won, considering he owns 3rd & Ferry Seafood Market, a seafood restaurant.
Bacon festivals are known for their costume contests, tasty bacon samples and unique, "bacon-related" activities, like pig races.
“I’ve owned this seafood restaurant for four years, but for 22 years before that, I did all kinds of cooking. Jeremy and I used to work together and we’re good friends. We start the pig roast competition at 6 p.m. Saturday and start serving the pork Sunday at about 11 a.m. It’s great fun.”
“There’s also pig racing, hog calling, a costume contest, non-stop live music, and kids events, in addition to – did I mention it? Bacon?” Wyant says with a laugh. She adds profits also benefit the Partnership initiatives, including Easton Main Street.
One of the largest bacon festivals in the Midwest is the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in Des Moines, Iowa, which this year was held Feb. 18. Drawing more than 11,000 people to the Iowa Events Center, the event has been held for 10 years. “We get our bacon from 12 different purveyors,” says Blue Ribbon organizer Brooks Reynolds. “We had 75 different bacon products, from Godshall’s, Hormel, Sugardale, Des Moines, Berkwood Farms, and Cloverdale,” he says.
Cloverdale, based in Mandan, North Dakota, won the top bacon award at the festival, according to Reynolds. Located in an area with other meat processors, the 100-year-old family-owned company makes seven types of bacon, including applewood smoked, roughcut, hickory smoked, hickory smoked pepper, hickory smoked maple, applewood smoked extra thick-cut, and the prize winner, hickory smoked chipotle garlic bacon. This bacon is cured with water, salt, sugar, sodium phosphate, and sodium nitrite. It is rubbed with garlic powder, sugar, spices, chipotle pepper powder, salt, onion powder, and natural flavors.
Reynolds explains that, “After reaching the decade mark in promoting this international bacon fellowship, the festival released the theme and ticket sales right after Halloween, so our more extreme bacon-lovers could acquire new costumes to wear to the festival at clearing-rack prices, or have time to retool their existing bacon getups. OHHHH BACON! – That’s our theme,” he exclaims.
The festival got started in 2001 at the Porter Family cabin, in Spring Lake, Iowa, where Marshall Porter, another Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival organizer, got together with his old high school gang to bond and imbibe beer. At one of those gatherings, someone fried up a pound of bacon. It disappeared within minutes and another pound was fried up.
“Six years later, with a load of wives and children making weekends at the cabin less practical, a reporter asked us: ‘What’s the one thing Des Moines is missing?’ I replied, ‘a bacon festival,’” Reynolds explains. “The first year, we had 200 people at a Scottish Rite Consistory. It just grew from there, and is now the world’s premier bacon festival,” Reynolds says. “Now we have craft beers, six different lectures about bacon, 70-mile bacon bike rides. There’s just more and more,” Reynolds says. “At our festival, we’ve even lured vegetarians back from the dark side.”