Repeat customers come into The Country Butcher in Tolland, Connecticut, seeking to find what 54-year-old owner Stephen Boyer has created for them lately in his boutique-like but old-fashioned American country processing business.
Boyer, who started in the meat business with his father at the age of 12, is hard pressed to think of a time when he didn’t make bacon. They were selling it by the tons. But nine years ago he got creative and began producing different flavors of the dry cured product.
“We developed hickory smoked, maple, double-smoked Black Forest, apple-cinnamon, black pepper and a few years ago even came up with Paprikova, a Hungarian-style bacon,” Boyer notes. “Then one day a customer asked what were you going to make that was special for Christmas?”
The inquiry got him to thinking about this special holiday and what was different about it that could relate to the meat business. He had made special Christmas sausage previously, but pondered what he could do to make a special bacon for this holiday.
“We thought about Christmas parties and aromas, things like those Yankee candles that smell like apple pie and cinnamon,” he recalls. “It was then that we came up with a bacon concept that reflected the aromas and taste of Christmas. We used cinnamon, ginger, allspice and a few other flavors and vacuum tumbled and smoked the product. It was an immediate hit.”
Boyer says the specialty bacon is usually ready in his display cases by Thanksgiving and presents both the aroma and the flavor he was hoping to offer to his eager customers.
“We provide samples in our retail area and the smell and taste just drive people crazy,” Boyer adds. “Not only do they love it, but they come back and remark how it doesn’t curl up and splatter when they cook it. And, they like the fact that it doesn’t shrink up.”
His customers let him know that this product he developed three years ago “really does taste like Christmas!”
Boyer says it is common to see customers at the checkout with 10 packs of his holiday bacon. It is sold in smaller slab form and sliced packages as well, all with a special label. He believes many who purchase this product freeze a lot of it to eat later, but that others think it is great enough to give as a Christmas gift.
The tumbling process provides a deeper flavor and pulls the seasonings through the meat, Boyer explains. He notes that the lack of water in the product contributes to the non-splatter feature, making the holiday item well worth the $8.99 he charges for a 12-oz. package.
“It was just our special way to replicate the Christmas holiday in bacon,” Boyer reflects. “We go all out to decorate our store and meat cases with the colors of the season. Our customers are shopping for the holiday and not just buying meat.”
The Country Butcher wasn’t really putting its reputation on the line with the development of its Christmas bacon. The family-owned business has garnered six consecutive top awards for its bacon in competitions held by the Pennsylvania Association of Meat Processors, which is open to processors throughout the Northeast, but has also received plaques for its product in the American Cured Meat Championships.
Boyer believes that when it’s cooked for in-store sampling, customers just smell Christmas in the air and are almost compelled to taste it. Then they want to take some home to share with friends and family. You might say that The Country Butcher has actually found a way to put feelings into its product that don’t appear on any ingredient label.