Standing in the pouring rain behind a small white folding table at the Maplewood Farmers' Market this past Wednesday was Lucian Matoushek, smiling quietly next to a small chalkboard sign containing a list of the day's offerings from the Farmers' Larder: kielbasa made with beef and pork and smoked over hickory wood; spicy andouille sausage; beef hot dogs in natural casings (for that satisfying "snap"); smoked ham hocks; and bacon, slowly dry-cured and thickly sliced.
All delicious, all made using livestock raised humanely with no antibiotics or growth hormones and seasoned with organic ingredients. All exceptional.
And then there is the jowl bacon.
Made from pigs' cheeks -- the same cut used for Italian guanciale -- this stuff is nothing short of divine. Thick, finger-size slices come in vacuum-wrapped packages weighing about a quarter-pound each. At first glance, the 80:20 fat-to-meat ratio seems worrisome. One could imagine the fat all melting away as it does with traditional bacon, leaving tiny little crunchy pork nibbles, not such a bad thing in itself, but not very satisfying in the end. But when you cook it up, either in the oven or in a sauté pan, the fat firms up slightly and forms a smoky char while the meat crisps with a surprisingly small amount of the slice melting away.
And the taste? Dear Lord! Ever so slightly sweet from a tiny amount of brown sugar in the cure, a nuttiness akin to acorns or chestnuts, that undeniable and satisfying salty pork flavor and something like dewy spring grass -- all in a tender, crisp bite. It is unreal.
And it sells out quickly.
You can find the Farmers' Larder -- and maybe, if you arrive early enough, jowl bacon -- at the Maplewood Farmers' Market, and in the coming weeks at the Tower Grove, Ferguson and Webster Groves markets.