The Best Bacon I’ve Ever Tasted In My Entire Life Is from Pigs Raised on … Leftover Lifesavers and Country Music?!

published Apr 23, 2024
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free range pigs collage with lifesavers
Credit: Photos: Shutterstock, Jake's Country Meats; Design: The Kitchn

The best bacon I’ve ever tasted is made from pigs raised on leftover Lifesavers, Osage oranges, custom feed, and country music.

I was dining out in Michigan when I first tried the crisp, salty, applewood-smoked bacon. It practically shattered into tasty, pork-y morsels when I bit into it. Naturally, I read the restaurant’s list of farm purveyors to find out where it had come from and how to get my hands on more. 

The pork farm, Jake’s Country Meats, in Cassopolis, Michigan, was on my way home to Chicago. I visited the company’s website and learned it has a self-serve meat shed. I could stock up on bacon! I arranged a farm tour too.

Credit: Michele Metych
The author and a week-old piglet.

Sixth-generation farmer Nate Robinson cheerfully trudged through knee-deep snow as he showed me the business that he and his wife, Lou Ann, built, on the same land his relatives farmed a century before. He let me hold a week-old piglet, with its umbilical cord still attached. 

Credit: Michele Metych
Pigs grazing on Lifesaver leftovers.

Later I saw pigs licking at what looked like a big, pink, blobby UFO. You see, Nate had purchased the leftover Lifesavers from a nearby candy factory and melted them into a big treat to keep the pigs entertained during the long winter, when food to forage was scarcer and the pigs were stuck a little closer to home because of the weather. 

I also heard country music. Nate was in the process of experimenting with the best music to deter coyotes, an idea he got from his father who used to play jazz for sows during the birthing process to help calm them and their piglets.

Jake’s Country Meats sells pasture-raised, antibiotic-free, non-GMO pork, poultry, and beef. Heritage breed animals are humanely and sustainably raised. The animals are free to graze outdoors, and they have comfortable protection from the elements available too. They have plenty of space to practice natural behaviors, like rooting. The farm is animal-welfare approved and environmentally certified. The farmers also partner with local fishermen to source Great Lakes fish, including walleye, trout, and whitefish. 

Credit: Jake's Country Meats
The self-serve meat shed in Cassopolis, Michigan.

All of this is for sale at the cool on-farm meat shed, and Jake’s participates in several farmers markets during the season. In the winter, the farmers schedule meat drops for orders in advance, and the farm’s employees (or the farmers themselves) meet customers in prearranged locations, like church parking lots. This way, I get my bacon, chorizo, and smoked pork chops monthly! They’re also introducing a home delivery option for customers in Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. (Lucky us!)

Credit: Jake's Country Meats
Jake's Country Meats famous applewood smoked bacon.

A decade later, I’m still a customer of Jake’s Country Meats — and I can still say it’s the best bacon I’ve ever tasted. Their spiral hams are the center of my holiday dinners, and I can’t imagine Thanksgiving without one of their turkeys. I still visit their meat shed when I’m in Michigan. There have been some changes on the farm since my first visit, though. The Lifesavers proved to be too sticky when the sun came back, so they’ve been replaced by leftover Luna Bars — the pigs really like the Macadamia Nut variety (me too, pigs, me too!) — and leftover frozen apples and blueberries from a local cold storage facility. This keeps the fruit from going to waste and gives the pigs, most especially the lactating mothers, an antioxidant boost.

Credit: Michele Metych

“The sweet treats are a very small part of their diet, but do help change the flavor profile of the pig,” says Renee Seelye (nee Robinson), daughter of Nate and Lou Ann, who, along with her husband, Nick, purchased the livestock farm from her parents in 2019. She also credits their “healthy and flavorful whole muscle, meat, and fat” to preserved genetics (“from our own sow herd for 50 years”), fresh food the farm grows and grinds itself, and the environment in which the pigs are raised. “Our woodlands contain wild berries, mulberries, Osage orange, beech nuts, hickory nuts — the list is endless.”

Credit: Jake's Country Meats
Pigs grazing in the woodlands on the farm.

The animals graze on a rotational system of about 240 acres (roughly half the size of Disneyland), spreading out the impact on the land and ensuring the health of the land and the animals in the future.

Always cognizant of the welfare of the animals and the environment, the Robinsons also played an important role in the early history of Whole Foods’ animal husbandry system, helping to develop the welfare standards for the program. Today the farmers are still finding new ways to demonstrate their respect for the animals and the land that’s been in their family for generations (they just built a new brooder to safely house chicks). I’m looking forward to seeing what sweet swine snacks they come up with next. 

Buy: Jake’s Country Meats Applewood Smoked Bacon, prices vary by region for 12 ounces at Jake’s Country Meats

Have you toured a local family farm recently? Tell us about it in the comments below.