The hand-crafted bacon from Nodine’s Smokehouse in Torrington, Connecticut, comes with a warning: “COOK RESPONSIBLY!”
In fact, Calvin Nodine, the 56-year-old plant manager and newly installed president, admonishes his wholesale, retail and even restaurant customers that their artisan bacon is already cooked and that it just “needs crisped to suit your preferences.”
The family owned business turns out a noteworthy 6,000 lbs. of bacon weekly with its 20-production and retail employees. About 80 percent of production hits the wholesale channels, ranging from local markets to high-end Manhattan restaurants, but reaches destinations across the country.
“We use three Vortron smokehouses and a Schroeder unit and work with locally sourced Berkshire pork,” Nodine explains. “This gives us juicier bacon with a deeper, richer color that provides tenderness and a flavorful taste.”
The gourmet bacon coming out of their 20,000-sq.-ft. production center is offered in slab and sliced format and continues the taste expectations from 1969, the year the company started. The company website nodinesmokehouse.com refers to it as “the bacon of our grandparents.”
Calvin’s father Ron, a mechanical engineer by trade, had a local farm processor making bacon for their family. When that processor let him know he was closing his operation, Ron pondered whether to take his mechanical engineering skills to a job opportunity in Ohio or remain in the foothills of the Berkshires.
Ron decided to build a small plant for processing when the retiring local processor agreed to sell him a customer list for $100 and told him he would stay on to train him. Ron and his wife Johanne moved ahead with this new endeavor.
“Unfortunately, the gentlemen died two weeks before the new plant was built and Dad knew nothing about how to cure and smoke meats,” Calvin recalls. “Dad went to the Univ. of Connecticut to learn how to make product and the instructor told him to just sit in on the classes and learn what he could. He didn’t charge him to audit the classes.” Calvin, who has worked with his father since the age of nine, notes that his dad, now 84, “obviously learned a lot.”
Today, Nodine’s Smokehouse produces bacon made by hand in small batches, with about a 10-to-12-day turnaround time. Their offerings include hickory, juniper and apple hardwood smoked bacon in such flavors as maple, Canadian, smoked garlic, smoked pepper, smoky bayou, a spicy Cajun, double-smoked, an Irish back bacon (from the pork loin) and more recently, a beef bacon.
Nodine’s uses pomace, or the crushed fruit pulp from apples after they are pressed by local cider mills, to impart a special flavor to their bacon. They also make nitrite-free bacon and uncured bacon using celery powder. Ron Nodine once noted that the area cider mills were looking for a place to dispose of the pomace and he had found a perfect new use for the material that they were once willing to deliver to his plant.
“We try to put a new spin on some old favorite bacon flavors,” Calvin advises, “but to us real bacon is hand rubbed and tumbled. We try to get the bacon to 150 degrees so that it is regarded as a ready-to-eat product that can be sliced from the deli counters using the same slicers utilized for other products. We let our customers know they can crisp their bacon to suit their preferences, but not over 325 degrees so as not to ruin it. That’s what we mean by cook responsibly.”
Nodine’s does privately labeled bacon for numerous accounts, but also operates a retail store in nearby Goshen, where they recently added a restaurant in Canton that features the company’s cured and smoked meat products.
“We felt it important to use a slower rubbing, tumbling and smoking process that creates a superior bacon and doesn’t shrink up in the pan when the customer crisps it for serving,” Calvin says. “If it really starts to shrink, they’ve over-cooked it. We feel we can charge more for our bacon because of that extra value we added. We call it our pride and joy.”