October 2, 2014
SMITHFIELD — A faint smoke curled through the structure as pounds upon pounds of bacon sizzled and popped on stovetops at Windsor Castle Park on Saturday. The scent of strips cooking to a near-perfect crisp wafted down the hill, over hundreds of folding chairs, to Cypress Creek and the stage set up near the riverbank.
On Saturday, the town known for ham celebrated the inaugural Bacon, Bourbon and Beach Music Festival.
Larry Saint is one of the committee members for Smithfield VA Events, the group that organized Saturday’s event and handles the towns other festivals. Saint was working the bacon station, where a dozen volunteers cooked up more than 2,000 pounds of bacon — all courtesy of Smithfield Foods, of course — for 2,500 attendees.
Saint was impressed with the sell-out crowd for the Bacon, Bourbon and Beach Music Fest’s first outing.
“You never know the first time doing an event how it’s going to go,” he said. There were long lines all day, Saint said, but not for the bacon, where the workflow kept piles of crispy slices at the ready to dole out to hungry attendees.
The lines were at the bacon condiment tent, where festival goers could doll up their plain old bacon. Some rolled the bacon up into a BLT wrap, others crumbled it up and sprinkled it over nachos, drowned it in dips and dressings or draped it over doughnuts.
Many scarfed down their share unsullied by condiments, including those 10 brave bacon enthusiasts who entered the festival’s bacon-eating contest.
Their challenge: eat a half-pound of bacon as quickly as possible. It sounds easy, but the salty strips left many contestants sucking at water bottles halfway through their plates of cured pig.
In the end, a Richmonder walked away with Smithfield’s bacon eating crown and a year’s supply of bacon to boot.
Libby Cunningham devoured her half-pound of bacon in just 1 minute, 20 seconds.
Cunningham said she didn’t have any competitive eating experience before Saturday, but it sounded like she’d been training for the contest her whole life.
“We regularly eat sandwiches with a full pound of bacon on them,” she said. “I triple my bacon on everything.”
Cunningham’s cheeks were still stuffed with bacon as she tried to smile and raised her arms in victory.
For some locals, however, bacon is blasé.
“The bacon, we know. It’s the bourbon that’s brought us here,” said Dick Fortier of South Church Street in Smithfield.
He and his wife Nancy had walked to the festival to try some of the 30 kinds of bourbon available for tasting from distillers small and large. But they weren’t going to skip the protein entirely.
“The bacon is so you can walk home without falling in the river,” Nancy Fortier laughed.