If you don’t live in Canada and you’ve never heard of peameal bacon, it’s easy to understand why. Peameal bacon is a type of bacon that’s been traditionally made only in Canada. And like a lot of different foods, it’s now finding its way to other parts of the world, including Canada’s southern neighbor and good friend, the United States.
“Peameal bacon, the real thing, is from Canada, eaten and loved by people all over the country,” says Dan Milanovic, the head of the Elite Meats brand for Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. “It’s a longtime Canadian tradition.” The company with the Elite Brand, which was run by Dan and his brother Sasha and based in Ajax, Ontario, has been the leader in making peameal bacon for foodservice across the country for a long time.
Back in May, Cardinal Meat Specialists, a large family-owned Safe Sous-Vide and Ground Beef Processor based in Brampton, Ontario, acquired Elite, a division of D&S Meat Products Ltd. “We’re bringing them into our company, and the Elite brand will grow and benefit from what we can do together,” says Brent Cator, 55, the third-generation owner and operator of Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. Both Cator and Milanovic feel the Elite Peameal Bacon can be sold in both foodservice and at retail. This will certainly be helped by the fact that breakfast has migrated to all parts of the day. Plus, the bacon can be used as toppings on many other different meats and sandwiches.
The bacon, also called back bacon sometimes, is a back bacon made from Canadian lean boneless pork loin, trimmed fine, wet cured and rolled in cornmeal. It is not smoked.
“The name ‘peameal bacon’ comes from the former practice of rolling the cured and trimmed boneless loin in dried and ground yellow peas. That was done to extend shelf life,” Milanovic says. “But now it’s rolled in ground yellow cornmeal.” And peameal bacon is a uniquely Canadian bacon, unlike so-called “Canadian bacon,” which is not. “What you call ‘Canadian bacon’ we call formed ham,” Milanovic says. Canadian bacon is an American name for what’s more like ham, often served as part of Eggs Benedict, rather than the streaky cured and smoked strips of bacon that’s made from pig bellies, that most people in the US are used to. Canadian bacon is a smoked back bacon that’s popular in the US and isn’t Canadian at all.
He says the origins of peameal bacon go back to the mid-1800s, when the market for pork in Great Britain was very lucrative but shipping fresh pork there from Canada was risky. William Davies, who created peameal bacon at that time, found that by adding a salt cure and coating in a ground meal made at that time from yellow peas, it arrived safely. “The flies were kept off,” Milanovic says with a laugh.
Elite starts with fresh, Canadian pork loins delivered daily and never frozen. “We have very specific criteria for the selected fresh pork we use to make our Elite Peameal Bacon. We maintain a traditional process from our 40-year-old recipe, which has never been changed or altered from the original specifications,” Milanovic says. “Many competitors use frozen pork backs to start their peameal process, by tempering, processing and re-freezing for foodservice. We don’t.” He says the bacon has the lowest internal moisture levels, the lowest fat and sodium levels, the highest amount of protein, and is certified gluten-free. The bacon comes sliced or in pieces, peameal or peppercorn peameal bacon.
The company is a federally-inspected meat processing facility and has been HACCP-recognized since 2001. “My parents, Radovan and Luba Milanovic, started this with a small butcher shop in downtown Toronto in 1974,” Milanovic says. The company evolved from what became a successful, family retail meat business, growing four times in size. “We grew up helping and working with our parents and learning the meat business,” he says. In 1994, the two brothers opened D&S Meat Products Ltd., with Elite Meats as part of it, supplying both new and long-term customers with peameal bacon, sausage, pork cuts, ground and diced pork, beef, veal and lamb for further processors, retailers and foodservice distributors.
“We’ve also been involved in food contracts with the government, including the military, corrections departments, and HRI (hotels, restaurants and institutions,” he reports. Today, the Peameal Bacon brand, now part of Cardinal Meat Specialists, is called The Elite Meat Peameal Bacon Company, and is the leading maker of peameal bacon in Canada. With the two companies combined, now both raw protein and cooked products are on the plate.
While Canada is peameal bacon’s home and is an iconic national breakfast food there – “Peameal bacon is part of Canada’s heritage,” Milanovic says -- there is interest in the meat in United States – especially now that Elite Meats has joined forces with Cardinal Meat Specialists. “We do very targeted marketing and selling in the United States,” Cardinal Meat Specialists’ owner Cator says. He notes his company has a very deep relationship with Costco Canada, and Cator and Milanovic plan to expand their business more into the US. Once you sample peameal bacon, you won’t want to miss the great Canadian breakfast sandwich: peameal bacon, Canadian cheddar cheese, eggs, apple and a maple-mustard sauce between a warm, homemade maple biscuit. Breakfast doesn’t get any more Canadian than that.