When the call came last summer from an editor at Everyday with Rachel Ray, the Food Network star’s magazine, requesting a product sample for a taste test, Tim Beeler and his wife Julie, who run Beeler’s Pure Pork Products in Le Mars, Iowa, didn’t think they had a chance against "the big boys," Tim told MEATPOULTRY.com. "Ours is a natural, uncured product. Julie sent off the sample and we forgot about it."

But the editors didn’t. In the issue of the magazine now on newsstands, Beeler’s apple-cinnamon bacon is recognized as the best "sweet bacon" anywhere. "This sugary, thick-cut bacon wooed judges with its cinnamony-sweet flavor," the magazine comments. "Each strip cooked up crisp around the edges, leaving the middle tender. Its dessert-like quality would pair well with pancakes for special-occasion breakfasts."

"It’s quite an honor. We’re ecstatic," Tim said. "It’s beyond our wildest dreams."

He told MEATPOULTRY.com that he wanted to produce a unique kind of bacon that customers would remember. "We analyzed what was on the shelves, and there’s lots of apple-wood-smoked bacon out there. Well, we thought, what goes with apples? Cinnamon does. So that’s where we started." He added that the cinnamon-apple blend produces a spectacular aroma when the bacon’s cooked. "You can’t buy a scented candle that smells as good."

But the suddenly popular apple-cinnamon bacon is only the tip of a larger story. Beelers have been raising hogs in Iowa since 1846, but after decades of raising hogs conventionally, "we decided to really embrace animal welfare," Tim said, "so we built a new animal-welfare-friendly farm. There are no gestation stalls, no hormones or antibiotics are used, no animal byproducts are in the feed, and the hogs can go outside when they want to. They can act like pigs." He branded the pork from his hogs, which are Duroc-based genetic crosses, "Heluka," which means "full of sun."

"I haven’t quite narrowed it down to a specific factor, but I have noticed that since we’ve begun raising our hogs this way, the quality of the meat has really improved," he said, adding that he finds conventionally produced pork to be far too lean. "When I order a pork chop in a restaurant and it’s been pumped or injected, I can barely finish two bites. What we’ve tried to do is bring back marbling and tenderness to pork, trying to bring it back to the middle from where it’s gone way out on the lean end."

Beeler’s also processes a garlic-pepper, hickory-smoked, and uncured pepper bacons, as well as ham, braunschweiger, bratwurst, frankfurters, fresh sausage and several other pork-based items. The company also producers five frozen prepared entrees.

The issue of Everyday with Rachel Ray describing Beeler’s award-winning apple-cinnamon bacon began showing up on newsstands last week, and Tim told MEATPOULTRY.com that the calls are beginning to come in. "We’re going to do some radio in Des Moines, and we’re getting calls from other reporters too." The orders are also beginning to stack up. "We sell in markets here in northwestern Iowa, but you can buy from our Web site too – www.beelerspurepork.com," he added with a salesman’s flair. "It’s great for Christmas!"