Smoke and Sizzle

The Nueske family's old-style bacon is lean and hot.

In 1933, at the age of 19, Robert Carl Nueske decided to rustle up a little business for his family's Wittenberg, Wisconsin, farm. Leaving his grandparents, parents, two brothers, and a sister to work the land and raise the animals, the enterprising young man traded his plow for a delivery truck and began peddling the family's homemade sausages and smoked meats to resorts in the northern part of the state. In the '40s, Nueske expanded the business, buying a butcher shop and designing and building six smokehouses—part of the secret of his company's success. Today, Nueske's Hillcrest Farm cures and smokes a whole line of ham, poultry, and sausage. But the bacon—smoky-sweet and lean—is the real cash cow. Robert's sons Jim and Bob, who took over in 1976, attribute the bacon's exceptional flavor to 24 hours of smoking time (commercial bacon is smoked for about five hours) over an open fire of applewood logs (instead of with smoke from the applewood sawdust that many of their competitors use). Since most of the fat is rendered in the smokehouse, Nueske's bacon doesn't shrink like other brands when cooked. With all this attention to detail, it's hardly surprising that Wisconsinites love this product. What's more of a surprise is that aficionados from as far away as Japan and Russia are becoming die-hard fans, too. But that's because Jim Nueske, who's in charge of marketing, has the same knack for sales that his father did, and entered the mail-order business in 1990 to expand his client base. Bacon is just the beginning, however: "We use it to get our foot in the door," he says. "Once people try our bacon, they're hooked." Contact Nueske's Hillcrest Farm (800/392-2266; website: www.nueske.com).