OK bacon lovers, just relax.
Calm down, exhale, breathe.
Reports of a pork shortage have been greatly exaggerated.
Last week, the whole bacon-eating world started sizzling when the U.K.’s National Pig Association issued dire warnings of a worldwide pork shortage due to a dwindling European herd caused by drought conditions there.
The report warned the shortage would be global. Panic ensued; bacon hoarding began in earnest.
But there’s no need to fear. Bacon will be here, U.S. officials are confident.
“It is considerably overblown at this point, in the public’s eye,” said Cindy Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Pork Board.
There will be no bacon lines, no bacon rationing, no bare grocery store cases where the bacon should be.
“There will definitely be bacon and pork products available,” Cunningham said. “Americans love their bacon.”
That’s the good news.
Now the bad news: the U.S. drought has affected the food chain. Losses of corn and soybean crops — the chief food for hogs — have caused feed prices to jump considerably. Hog farmers are responding by keeping smaller herds, Cunningham explained.
That will translate to a smaller amount of pork in the market, and a smaller supply will guarantee higher prices.
How high is hard to predict exactly.
Shayle Shagam, a livestock analyst with the USDA’s World Agricultural Outlook Board, said the decline in pork production is expected to be just over 1 percent in 2013. We’ve seen small declines like this before.
Estimates of U.S. pork production for 2013 are 22.9 billion pounds. That’s down from 23.2 billion this year, but up from 22.8 billion produced in 2011.
He said there are factors that could offset the high feed prices, including South American crops that are just now going in the ground.
“Basically, what we are looking at is probably a slight decline in pork production in the U.S.,” he said. “What we’re looking at is probably some higher prices at the retail level for consumers.”
Now the worse news: pork isn’t the only meat price that will be rising next year.
Beef and chicken prices also are expected to jump in 2013, due to a variety of factors, including the drought, which, in addition to wiping out grain crops, also devastated pasture lands where cattle graze, Shagam explained.
“We’re looking at tight supplies of all three meats and the consumer will have to make whatever budget decisions they would make based on that,” he said.
The bottom line: no shortages, no rationing, but higher prices for sure.
So while there’s no need to start hoarding, it never hurts to put a pound or two of bacon in the freezer before the prices go up.
If you do, you’ll be ready to try out these recipes from pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith’s new book, Baking Out Loud (Clarkson Potter, $27.50), that are sure to make every bacon lover forget about things like drought and rising grocery prices.
¾ cup sugar
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 cup chopped candied bacon (recipe follows)
2 tbsp. chilled bacon fat or unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ tsp. fleur de sel or coarse sea salt
Line a baking sheet with a non-stick liner (not parchment paper). Grease the bottom of a metal spatula or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and 2 tablespoons water, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear, about 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the mixture to a boil.
Add the pecans and salt, and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar begins to turn brown on the edges. The sugar will look dry and granular but will melt into a lovely caramel. Continue cooking and stirring for another 4 to 6 minutes, until the caramel is liquid and deep amber.
Slide the pan from the heat, and add the bacon and bacon fat.
Stir until the bacon fat is blended in and the bacon is evenly coated with the caramel.
Carefully and quickly pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, and using the greased spatula, spread into a thin layer. Sprinkle with the fleur de sel. Set aside at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, or until completely cool and hard. Break into small clusters, and store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Makes about ¾ pound.
½ lb. thick sliced bacon
⅓ cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup pure maple syrup
2 tbsp. molasses
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, combine the bacon, brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses, and pepper and stir until the bacon is coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or for up to 24 hours.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees (350 if using a convection oven). Line a large sheet pan with 1-inch-high sides with foil, and position a wire rack inside the pan.
Arrange the bacon strips on the rack. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes (20 to 25 minutes if using a convection oven), or until the bacon is dark brown.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack, and let cool for about 10 minutes. Pry the bacon off the wire rack (it will be sticky), and serve immediately, or cool completely and whiz in the food processor until it is finely chopped. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Makes ¼ pound or 1 cup chopped bits.