America's extremism with bacon mania continues this weekend, when more than 4,000 pounds of rashers will be hauled up to Keystone for the Blue Ribbon Bacon Tour, a two-day feast created for junkies who can't get enough of the salty, sweet swine.
"I think it's the world's perfect food," says Brooks Reynolds, the founder of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Tour and Festival, of which there are three: Keystone, Des Moines, Iowa and Reykjavik, Iceland. "My mom made bacon for me every Saturday while I was growing up," recalls Reynolds, "and it just keeps getting better, thanks to so many new flavor profiles and so many awesome artisan companies making really great bacon."
Reynolds, who admits that he's been obsessed with bacon since, well, forever, started what he calls a "bacon and beer fellowship" several years ago in Iowa; that fetish then spawned bacon lectures and, eventually, his first bacon festival, which he launched at an Iowa bar in 2008. "We had 400 people that first year, and it's doubled in size every single year since then," making it, he declares, the largest bacon festival in the United States.
In 2011, while Reynolds was skiing in Keystone and wearing a shirt, he recalls, stamped with a pig, he wound up knocking back bacon shots with a Keystone Resort staffer -- and that led to pitching the idea of a bacon festival in Keystone village; this weekend's bacon bonanza will be the third Keystone tour, and Reynolds says the altitude-high resort is the ideal backdrop for a bacon bash. "This is such a fun place for a festival -- I love the casual, picnic-type atmosphere, and I love how family-friendly it is up here," he says.
Five bacon purveyors, including Justin Brunson's Denver Bacon Company; Tender Belly, also based in Denver; Eden Farms; Des Moines Bacon Company; and Daily's Bacon, will all be pimping their swine at the festival, and fifteen to twenty different vendors will also offer bacon-centric dishes, including bacon ice cream, bacon tacos, a bacon bloody Mary bar and bacon quesadillas.
Brunson -- also one of the owners (and exec chef) of Old Major and Masterpiece Deli -- and his crew will stump bacon strips, bacon caramels and deep-fried bacon paired with a trio of dipping sauces. And his bacon, he says, is unparalleled. "Our bacon is made here in Colorado -- it's the only bacon made in Colorado -- and people tell us it's the best bacon they've ever had," adds Brunson, noting that his bacon won the People's Choice award earlier this year at the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in Iowa. "It's smoked with this amazing local peach wood and that, along with the the old-word dry-curing techniques we use, makes it stand above the rest -- even vegetarians say they're tempted by the smell of our bacon."
The founders of Tender Belly, brothers Shannon and Erik Duffy, are hauling up 1,000 pounds of their bacon to the event -- and the duo also won the Best Heritage Breed bacon award at the festival in Des Moines. "Everything that has bacon in it just tastes better," says Shannon, who will serve the company's signature maple-cured bacon, along with an habanero-cured bacon. "Ninety percent of the pork we sell comes from small family farms in Iowa -- arguably the best pigs in the world -- and the rest comes from Missouri, Colorado and Arizona," adds Shannon. "We feel like our bacon is one of the best on the market, and the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival has arguably one of the biggest followings in the country, so it's a great opportunity for us to get some exposure -- plus, it's just a really fun time."
The festival runs from 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and admission prices are $30 for a one-day pass and $50 for a two-day pass, the prices of which include a pair of sunglasses, live music, endless bacon tastings from the bacon purveyors and "bacon bucks" to spend at the various vendor tents; additional "bacon bucks" are available in $5 increments and libations are sold separately.
"Much like the Crusaders revolutionized the lives of Europeans by introducing a large variety of spices from the East, the Blue Ribbon Bacon Tour travels to places like Colorado to transform the lives of bacon lovers by introducing a variety of bacon and bacon-inspired dishes from around the world -- and of course, we like to do all this while tossing back a few cold beers," says Reynolds.
"Bacon will always be a loved product -- and it goes great with beer," echoes Shannon. "It's a crazy addiction, but it's not a trend that's going to disappear anytime soon. People will continue to love bacon forever, and we're excited to give away as much of our bacon as possible."
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A portion of the festival's proceeds benefits Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, a nonprofit that partners with the Dillon Ranger District, which protects our national forest lands. To purchase tickets to the Blue Ribbon Bacon Tour, go to http://www.blueribbonbaconfestival.com/festivals/keystone-co-tour/.