One of the great opportunities given to small meat processors by the bacon craze is the chance to showcase their distinctiveness in the world of meat processing, as well as the quality of their meat products.
It would be hard to find a better example of this than the meat-processing business of Vermont Smoke & Cure, including the distinctive bacon products the company produces. The company is based in Hinesburg, Vermont, a small town located 12 miles south of Burlington. In some ways, it is a typical small meat processor. In others, its identity is distinctively Vermont and New England.
“We’re a small meat processor, but not a family owned business,” says Chris Bailey, CEO. He’s part-owner of the business, along with all 75 of his employees as well as some outside investors. The company is part of a steady upswing in New England agriculture in general, and meat processing in particular. The growth is fueled by the strong belief of New Englanders and Vermonters in buying and consuming locally grown and raised meat and food products.
This philosophy certainly applies to the Vermont Smoke & Cure’s bacon products, which are the company’s biggest selling products, and a regional favorite in Northern New England. “We’ve been making bacon since 1962. We buy our pork bellies mostly from DuBreton in Quebec, which is quite close to us,” Bailey says. Both styles of bacon Vermont Cure crafts come from certified humanely raised pork. That means the bacon comes from pork raised without antibiotics, no added hormones and fed a vegetarian diet.
“Our original bacon is uncured, brined, cob and maple-smoked bacon. This is a great New England regional specialty,” he points out. “We craft our uncured maple bacon by brining the pork with certified Vermont made maple syrup from our local sugar maker partner Sweet Retreat, and just enough sea salt before smoking it with sweet, mellow smoke from corn cobs and maple wood shavings to balance the maple, salt and smoke.”
The second major bacon product is apple cider brined bacon. “We combine Vermont apple cider produced by our local ingredient partner at Champlain Orchards with a European spice blend, with reduced sodium and no added sugar. We also make an uncured bacon meat stick, which is 20 percent bacon, not just bacon flavor, from bits and pieces of the pork. The sticks are a combination of pork and our own maple and apple cider brined bacons with slow hickory smoking.”
Bailey and his employees also are extremely proud of their distinctive bacon hot dog, again not just bacon flavor, but they contain 20 percent bacon. Considering the iconic nature of both bacon and hot dogs, what could be more successful than combining them both in one? “Yes, our bacon hot dogs are certainly unique,” Bailey says with a laugh. “We make them by mixing beef with our own bacon before stuffing them into a natural lamb casing and slowly smoking them,” he says.
Bailey has some strong ideas about why products made by small meat processing companies — especially bacon — are doing so well in the marketplace. “I think people are looking for more unique flavors now, more regional recipes. And that’s something people up in this area feel very strongly about. So for all our products, we try to acquire our livestock from the regional area.”
Then there’s the whole bacon fad — “which I don’t really think it is a fad, or if it is, I think it will be a permanent fad,” he says. “It’s a result of the growth of the food culture in the United States that’s grown and grown — the cooking shows on TV, and let’s be honest about it, the cooking reality shows that draw large numbers of viewers. But there’s also bacon itself; it tastes great, there’s nothing like it. You know, bacon adds something special to every type of food it goes into, as well as the bacon itself. Just think of all the things you can add it to — not just with eggs, but BLTs, stews, potato salad — I think bacon will always be with us.”
The company’s products, including its bacon, are sold at Whole Foods stores nationally, independent groceries, coops and health food stores, in Target Stores, and on the company’s website.
Unlike some other processors, Vermont Smoke & Cure has no plans to diversify into beef, turkey or shoulder (cottage) bacon. “I think a moderate amount of diversity in the products a meat processor makes is important, and certainly open you up to new markets and customers,” Bailey says. “But the other side of that coin is that you need to be an expert in what you do. You need to be known for something, and then work very hard at it, so your products become iconic, so to speak. Those are our goals and what we’re doing, what we’re accomplishing,” he says.