“Everybody loves bacon — or most people love bacon — and it’s been pretty unchanged over time,” said Camilo Velasquez, co-founder of The Baconer, a boutique bacon company in Oakland. Velasquez started the company in October 2016 with his wife, Elisa Lewis.
Officially, The Baconer started out in Forage Kitchen, a culinary incubator for nascent restaurants and food suppliers. But the idea for the company goes back further, to New York, where Velasquez and Lewis participated in a weekly supper club run out of their home in Brooklyn.
“Neither of us really had backgrounds in the food industry,” said Velasquez. At the time, he worked in product development in leather goods at luxury fashion company Coach. Lewis worked in web design. The supper club gave the couple a chance to collaborate with local chefs, where they learned a lot about curing meats and the joys of home smoking.
Both Velasquez and Lewis are Bay Area natives. Upon moving back to California in September of 2012, they wanted to do something more with their informal education in meat, and… voilà, The Baconer was born.
Bacon may be a darling of hipster food fetishes, but there is something undeniably timeless about a cut of cured, smoked pork. And Velasquez wants to do more than what he calls the three basic incarnations of bacon: smoked, pepper and maple.
“We’re taking this product with a cult following and really pushing it into new areas,” he said, introducing such varieties as smoky paprika, pork belly pastrami and bacetta, a bacon-pancetta hybrid. “It’s got a traditional pancetta flavor profile but a bacon finish,” said Velasquez.
More unusual for an American company, Velasquez also makes lardons — cubes of thick-cut, cured pork belly popular in French cooking.
“It’s a great way to use bacon as an ingredient for cooking rather than chopping up bacon into little pieces,” said Velasquez.
Velasquez and Lewis only work with pork, but often take inspiration from other meats, analyzing what’s special to a particular cut — pastrami, for example — and figuring out a way to “baconize it” as Velasquez says. “We really push the envelope on flavor.”
Velasquez and Lewis source their responsibly raised, non-GMO, hormone-free pork from DG-Langley (formerly Langley Farms and Devil’s Gulch Ranch) in Nicasio and Petaluma and from Llano Seco in Chico. All cuts at The Baconer start out with a seven-day dry cure, followed by a smoking. But rather than finishing in ovens or letting them sit for hours in smokers as most commercial bacon is made, Velasquez finishes the cuts in sous vide.
Velasquez describes the unconventional process as something stumbled upon during experimentation, but an innovation that sets The Baconer apart. To his knowledge, no other company uses sous vide to finish its bacon.
“It gave me a product that had a ton more flavor, much better texture and really gave me something pretty unique,” said Velasquez. “We’re cooking [the meats] in their own juices, amplifying their flavors and giving a much better experience and better product.”
For now, The Baconer is primarily an online retailer — though one that ships nationwide — and has a limited local market presence. Velasquez and Lewis sell their bacon at the Larkspur Landing and Grand Lake farmers markets on Saturdays, and at Montclair and Kensington farmers markets on Sundays. Velasquez is in conversation with a few high-end grocery stores regarding wholesale accounts but doesn’t want to jinx the process by giving away names just yet. “We’re taking it one step at a time,” he said.
Beginning this month, The Baconer will also launch a bacon-of-the-month club. “Our product is really unusual so it’s a good fit for somebody who is looking for something quirky or fun. As a gift it was the perfect thing. Though we’re also finding a lot of people are ordering it for themselves,” Velasquez said, laughing. “A lot of folks who come and buy from us are coming back and back and back and the idea of getting bacon right on their doorstep was really appealing.”
In the meantime, patrons curious to try out The Baconer’s products without committing to ordering a full 12 ounces can find pastries made with Velasquez and Lewis’ bacon from La Noisette in Berkeley. “They do a wonderful croquet de lardons with our smoky paprika lardons,” said Velasquez.
For those who are lucky enough to receive the bacon-of-the-month club or otherwise find themselves with some of The Baconer’s wares on hand, the company’s website lists a variety of bacon recipes. Recipes range from the classic (bacon-wrapped dates and spaghetti carbonara) to the more unusual (PBB & J, the extra ‘B’ for bacon) and even an entire holiday menu featuring bacon in every dish: roast Brussels sprouts with bacon, bacon deviled eggs, bacon vinaigrette and so on.
Velasquez wants to foster creativity in bacon-eating as much as he tries to innovate in bacon-making. “We have a product that we find inspires people to cook in a different or better way,” said Velasquez. “We want to give our customers as many ideas as we can.”
Including a response to the most common question Velasquez and Lewis receive: What’s the right way to cook bacon? Curious readers can find the answer here.