The Baltimore Sun

Dan Taylor slathers Baconnaise on turkey sandwiches and has used it as a sauce to dunk steamed shrimp. The Lutherville foodie also makes a dip by crumbling bacon into warm cheese that he calls "life-altering."

Phillip Kerrigan, a Baltimore furniture restorer, has recently tried bacon bread pudding, bacon peanut butter cups, bacon toffee and bacon rum. For a friend's birthday, he whipped up a batch of homemade bacon and egg ice cream.

Here are just two proud soldiers of the burgeoning Bacon Nation, marching forward boldly and bravely, if somewhat greasily, striving to push the conventional limits of a once-ordinary breakfast meat.

Bacon, these days, is so much more than bacon. For the obsessive and adoring Bacon Nation, it's about cheap thrills and a chance for Internet fame.

And they're eating bacon like it's an extreme sport.

"There's just been a cult following around it, and it's deserved," says Dave Lefkow, who along with his bacon-crazed friend Justin Esch invented Bacon Salt and Baconnaise, a bacon-flavored mayonnaise. "Everyone not only loves bacon, but is obsessed by it."

Obviously, bacon has been around - ancient Romans reportedly fried it up. But somehow, as inventive as the Romans were, they missed the opportunity to create the Bacon Explosion. Or The Porkgasm. They never, as Esch recently did, made a hamburger entirely of ground bacon and declared it "grossly good."

They never, as Bacon Today "Chief Baconographer" Corey James did, took prosciutto, wrapped it in Canadian bacon, then wrapped that in turkey bacon, then encased the whole thing in double-smoked, thick-sliced bacon.

They never took pictures and videos of such creations, posted them on blogs, Flickr and YouTube.

So why are so many people suddenly so into bacon? James thinks it's about people taking guilty pleasure in eating something that's nutritionally taboo, and then extracting even more bliss by exponentially increasingly the decadence factor. A hot dog is bad for you. A hot dog wrapped in bacon and sandwiched between two oblong maple doughnuts is hard-core food porn.

"If it's bad to start with, it's like, how can we make it slightly badder to get more attention," James says.

This over-the-top behavior might have something to do with a slight uptick in national bacon sales. Last year, Americans bought more than 511 million pounds of it - an almost 3 percent increase from the year before, according to Hormel Foods.

Esch and Lefkow caught the wave, launching Bacon Salt in 2007 from their garage in Seattle. The product, now in nine flavors, has sold 750,000 jars. The Daily Show's Jon Stewart recently christened their latest invention Baconnaise, saying "Baconnaise, for people who want to get heart disease but, [are], you know, too lazy to actually make bacon."

"It's the world's most perfect food," Lefkow rhapsodizes. "It's deliciously fatty and smoky and savory and sweet."

Heather Lauer started the Bacon Unwrapped blog four years ago on a lark, but she drew a following, and now her book, Bacon: A Love Story, published by William Morrow, comes out in May.

The former Washington, D.C., public affairs consultant, who lives in Phoenix, has been known to wear a scarf that looks like a long strip of you know what. She wore it, in fact, to the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival this month in Des Moines, Iowa.

But it's not like she eats bacon daily. "I wouldn't be alive if I did," she says. When she does, however, it can be like it was at the festival - bacon Bloody Marys in the morning till evening closes with Bacon Wrapped Tater Tots and Candied Bacon.

The bacon scene simmers in Baltimore, too.

At Bad Decisions bar in Fells Point, people clamor for the Bacon and Beer Happy Hours. The next one is set for April 14.

Bar owner John Reusing infuses his whole menu with bacon - he's done bacon-wrapped plantains and cheesy bacon fries - and places big bowls of bacon on the bar.

"At the last one, I went through 30 pounds of bacon in about two hours," he says.

At Golden West Cafe in Hampden, bar manager Jen Patterson has attracted baconistas with her Bacon Bulleit, a cocktail of bourbon, lemon and maple syrup with applewood smoked bacon replacing the swizzle stick.

Though some social prognosticators have declared bacon dead, it seems quite alive and kicking. With Lauer's book coming out in a couple of months and the creators of the Bacon Explosion getting a book deal, too, the future seems to hold only more bacon.

Lefkow says that if the cool kids no longer are eating bacon, then good - more for him. "Let the hipsters have their foie gras," he says. "We'll eat the bacon."

blue-cheese bacon dip

(serves 2)

3 to 4 slices bacon

4 ounces cream cheese

2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese

Cut bacon slices in half and cook till crispy. (The microwave works great. Simply lay the slices between two paper towels and microwave according to package instructions.)

Put the cream cheese and blue cheese crumbles in a microwave safe dish and microwave until it's just melting. Remove from microwave and stir till blended. Crumble bacon and add to dip until you get the cheese-to-bacon ratio that you desire.

Serve with crackers and/or fruit slices (apple and pear work nicely).

Courtesy of Dan Taylor of Lutherville

Per serving: : 279 calories, 10 grams protein, 26 grams fat, 15 grams saturated fat, 2 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 79 milligrams cholesterol, 505 milligrams sodium

The nutritional analyses accompanying recipes in Wednesday's You section were calculated by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.

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