If you travel throughout the world searching for various kinds of bacon, depending on where you go, you’ll find many distinct kinds. Here in the US, you tend to find what people from other parts of the world would call “American” or “streaky” bacon. The bacon would be made in many assorted styles, though, depending on whether it comes from a very large bacon producer, or a small, local meat processor. 

At Gracie’s on West Main, a small, locally owned restaurant in Leola, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, two unusual kinds of bacon stand out – bacons that you won’t find very easily at most meat processors or restaurants. They are cottage bacon and Irish bacon. And they are the center of attention at this small, locally owned eatery, owned and run by married couple Grace Volker and Jim Rutolo. 

“Since bacon is a very important part of our restaurant, we decided to offer bacon products that you’re not going to find very easily,” Rutolo says. And because of that, people come from far and wide to sample these unique bacon products: cottage bacon and Irish bacon. These two varieties, similar, but not the same, tend to be leaner than regular bacon, he says, and tend to range from a rectangle to a round shape, rather than in typical long strips. 

Some of the pork for these bacons comes from local Lancaster County processors, and some of it comes from the “north country,” New York State, New England and Canada. “Very few places make these bacons anymore,” he notes. He explains the differences between the bacons, and how they can be distinguished from average restaurant bacon. 

“Cottage bacon is bacon made from the shoulder of a pig, resulting in lean pork meat without the characteristic fatty streaks that many people think is always part of bacon,” Rutolo says. “It can be eaten just the same as regular bacon, but it can tend to look more like ham than bacon. Also, the flavor of cottage bacon can vary a great deal, depending on how it’s cured. But people who try it here fall in love with it,” he says. “Another difference between our cottage bacon and regular bacon is while it is cured, sometimes it’s smoked and sometimes it’s not. So, it needs to be kept under refrigeration, because it has not been cooked yet, but it is cured for flavor.” 

Gracie Volker and Jim Rutolo
Gracie’s Irish bacon is something else, although closer to cottage bacon than to regular bacon. “Irish bacon is back bacon and comes from the loin in the middle of the back of the pig,” Rutolo says. The bacon is sometimes referred to as “rashers” or in the US, as Canadian bacon. “In Ireland, they would call it ‘traditional back bacon,” he explains. “It’s cured (brined) pork and is often cut from the eye of the loin. Often the fat isn’t trimmed off the edges, and it could be either smoked or unsmoked,” he says. 

It’s similar to the bacon that’s sold in Great Britain. Irish bacon is usually slightly leaner than cottage bacon, he says. 

Was it hard to get people to switch from eating the regular “American” bacon they’re used to, to Irish and cottage bacon? “Oh no,” he says with a laugh. “We put both these bacons on the menu right away, and people just flocked to them, to both cottage and Irish bacon, because they’re such unique products. The truth is, we sell a ton of these bacons,” he says. 

Rutolo admits they “forced” the products a little. “Since these bacons aren’t sold in many other places, and we are known for our bacon here, we thought it would be a natural fit for us,” he says. So, he says they added the bacons to their Irish Breakfast Sandwich, Three-Bacon BLT, Bacon Grilled Cheese and on Bacon Samplers, as well. 

“Irish and cottage bacons have meatier flavors to them, and they’re leaner than the bacon a lot of people are used to,” Rutolo says. “Most people, when they’re introduced to Irish or cottage bacon, have no idea what it is. And even when you can find it, which isn’t all that often, it tends to be sold more retail in specialty stores than offered in restaurants,” he says. Rutolo says he offers his cottage and Irish bacon in two varieties – plain and peppered. 

Gracie’s On West Main’s customers seem to like both styles of bacon. They like the fact that Irish and cottage bacon are different from what they’re used to. “I think our customers like the fact these are unusual products. With more and more chain restaurants these days, people like the fact they can find unique food products in locally-owned restaurants,” Rutolo says.