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Oct 11 / john.russell

Pearls Before Swine or Benefits of Mass Production

The results from the Canadian bacon taste testing were quite interesting, and have actually caused me to question my own biases.

I confess I do shop at Wal-mart for some things. I’m as cheap as the next guy so good deals on dry goods are really appealing to me. But, for fresh meat I go to a locally owned grocery store with a butcher on site. The meat seems fresher, and frequently the prices, especially on sale items, are better than Walmart.

When comparing the texture and appearance of Walmart pork loin to locally grown pork lion, the Walmart loin looked grey and pale and felt slimy. The local pork was rosy pink with marbling throughout. I’m told the marbling may be a result of the feed given by this particular hog farmer – who intentionally fattens his pigs more than other farmers might. My clear preference for the meat in its raw form was the locally grown pork.

After the two recipes for the Canadian bacon were finished – each made partly with local loin and partly with loin from Walmart – I thought the local loins were clearly better with a much more balanced flavor. The Walmart loin Canadian bacon picked up the saltiness of the brine, but didn’t seem to have the richness of the meat.  You could taste the smoke and the salt, but no subtleties or interesting characteristics. The bacon made from local loin, on the other hand, seemed more interesting, balanced, and varied – rich and warm.  The flavor of the meat came through and not just the smoke and salt.

The panel of 24 judges didn’t seem to agree. In both recipes the Walmart loin beat the local. Here are the results.

Average Sore (scale of 1 to 10):
Walmart Herb Brined: 7.33
Local Herb Brined: 6.61
Walmart Slow Smoked: 6.02
Local Slow Smoked: 5.57
Store Bought: 4.98

The Walmart loin herb brined (hot smoked) Canadian Bacon was the clear winner with 13 out of the 24 judges ranking it as their favorite.

Of course I knew what I was eating before tasting the meats, so there must have been some innate bias involved.  But, I really thought that any subtlety from the herbs and the rich flavor of the meat were drowned out while the simple and pungent flavors of salt and smoke ruled supreme in the Walmart purchased meat.  Perhaps simple is better, less confusing.  Perhaps I imagined tasting more in the local meat than I really did because of my biases.

Maybe there’s something to be said for mass production of livestock with standardized feeding regimes and the use of hormones, antibiotics, etc.  Is it possible that these methods actually produce better tasting meat?  Or, is it just that we as a people have become so accustomed to mass produced foods that it actually does taste better to us.  These questions are surely way beyond the scope of this experiment, but it is fun to ponder – for a short while.

The judges and I did agree that the herb brined loin was better than the standard brine/slow smoked recipe.  Though it was difficult to isolate the flavor of the herbs in the herb brined loin, there was (at least in the local meat) a complexity of flavors and the smoke was more abundant.  Though the meat for the slow smoked recipe smoked for longer,  the loin was enclosed in a casing of  cow intestine during the smoking process.  The casing was then removed and the smokiness in the loin did seem more subtle.

Even more interesting, though, are the varied comments the judges made.  There were some clear trends in the judges remarks.  For example in the slow smoked method, comments about saltiness were very common but smokiness was rarely mentioned.  On the other hand, the most common comment on the herb brined hot smoked loin was the smokiness.  And, 15 judges commented the pre-made, store bought Canadian bacon lacked flavor.

There were also a variety of comments for each kind of loin, many of which were contradictory and lacked consistency.  Good flavor, odd smell, fishy aftertaste, smooth, strong, bleachy, nice, salty, low in salt, and generic were all words used by different judges to describe one kind of Canadian bacon.  For some judges salty and/or smokey were good things, but for others they were bad.

Whether the differing opinions are caused by differences in taste buds, differences in life experiences, or the order in which each judge tasted the samples, Walmart – yet again – clearly won out over the the local guy.

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