Lard

Seattle is a pork-happy town. I observed the local fondness for pork not long after moving to the city three years ago. In addition to sandwiches and burgers featuring bacon, which is to be expected, pork plays a prominent role in breakfast. "Of course," some of you say, "ham and eggs for breakfast."

Seattleites don't stop at the traditional breakfast offerings, such as bacon and eggs, sausage and eggs, or pancakes and eggs. No, they take their worship of that "magical animal" a few steps further. In Seattle, you find pancakes and waffles with bacon mixed into the batter. I expect that other cities have similar or even stranger practices. In Scotland and Rain City, you may consume a Scotch egg, which is a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, coated in bread crumbs and deep-fried.lard-small.jpg

The seeming omnipresence of bacon was unmatched in Portland and San Francisco, where I've also lived. Lard also is popular, for reasons that remain elusive to me. I started thinking about lard while reading Real Food, but I was quite shocked by the interest at the first Crown S CSA meeting. Lard was one of the hot topics around the picnic area, with people wondering where to obtain lard from organic, sustainably raised pigs.

Who could answer questions about buying and making lard? Eyes turned to the Ethicureans.

So, last week, I made lard.

My first encounter with lard was almost two decades ago in a Soviet deli. A college student of languages and literature, I lived in Russia to study the language and to travel outside of the U.S. for the first time. While I waited in line — a common practice in the Soviet Union — to buy a hunk of sausage, my eyes fell on a strange white brick in a display case. The brick looked like a sickly, pale cousin of Crisco. After a few minutes, it dawned on me — lard.

The texture and appearance of lard was one of the lesser surprises in the Soviet Union. I had been raised on butter and margarine, and was used to their color and texture. Lard looked more like refined gristle, or the remnants in a skillet from cooking bacon. Lard is very similar to the fat left behind by bacon and pork sausage links, though these cuts come from different parts of the pig than the best grade of lard, leaf lard.

A few calls to local retailers revealed that the likely suspects, specialty foods store Whole Foods and natural co-op PCC, do not carry lard. Whole Foods said that they had not found a supplier that met their standards, while PCC simply said that they do not carry lard. Uwajimaya, one of the best places to find Asian foods in Seattle, carries lard, as does a shop in Pike Place Market, but neither store provides information about their lard's origins.

Commercial lard commonly contains the additive BHT, a preservative that is a suspected carcinogen, and is partially hydrogenated.
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Lard is made by rendering pig fat, a process in which the fat is melted and non-fat pieces are removed. Leaf lard is not lard, but is rendered into lard, a distinction that some may find confusing. Leaf lard is the fat surrounding the pig's kidneys and reportedly results in less "piggy" flavored lard.

The Dairy Queen had tipped me off to buying lard from Samish Bay Cheese, which has a booth at the Ballard Farmers Market. I'd also heard that Skagit River Ranch sells lard. Unfortunately, much of Seattle heard the same thing when Pacific Northwest Magazine wrote about lard and listed my two sources.

When I reached the Samish Bay booth, the woman kindly informed me that they had no more leaf lard. Pacific Northwest Magazine's article had caused a run on lard. She did have back fat, another part of the pig used to make lard, but her hands outlined a block larger than a shoe box. I decided against back fat, but the woman told me to try calling Samish Bay Cheese to see if they have any leaf lard in storage. Autumn is the end of the slaughtering cycle, and Samish Bay will not replenish their lard stores until next spring. If they do have leaf lard, you can ask them to bring it to their booth at one of the farmers' markets where they do business. Their phone number is (360) 766-6707.

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Skagit River Ranch doesn't list leaf lard or back fat on their product board. I ambled into the back of the tent and asked quietly, "Do you have any back fat?"

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"Oh, yes," said Betty, pulling opening an unmarked cooler next to the scale. Not only did they have pork fat, but it was the higher quality leaf lard. Score! I bought two bags, which Betty said would make a cup each. I later discovered that hers was a conservative estimate.

The leaf lard still was frozen when we got home. I placed the packages in the refrigerator to render the following day during my lunch hour. The chunks of fat felt firmer than I expected and were tough to cut, partly because of a thin membrane of connective tissue that covered one side.

The Pacific Northwest Magazine lard article, which I should mention is published by The Seattle Times, recommends processing the fat into paste and rendering the fat for several hours over low heat. I had a little over an hour, and I didn't have any desire to clean pureed fat from the food processor. I turned to an older article from the San Francisco Chronicle, which informed me that high-temperature rendering gives lard a caramelized flavor, a perfect complement to certain pie crusts.

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I cut the lard into small chunks and placed the approximately three pounds of lard chunks in a 12" cast iron skillet and added a cup of water. The fat was supposed to melt in an hour at 375 degrees, leaving behind browned pieces of pig. One of our readers recommended saving the leftover browned pieces for use with beans and in stews.

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Things didn't turn out entirely as expected. After two hours, I still had some pieces that looked like soggy calamari. I also had a bubbling pool of golden liquid. I expect that this was one of the times when following the recipe, and using only one pound of fat, would have been productive. The volume of liquid was more than the two cups estimated by Betty.

After allowing the liquid to cool, I poured it into a mason jar and stuck the jar in the refrigerator. A few hours later, we had a jar filled with the familiar white fat — about four cups worth. The kitchen smelled of bacon for several days.

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Lard will keep for six months if refrigerated and up to a year if frozen. Eventually, lard will oxidize and turn rancid.

The measure of lard, for me, was the quality of pie crust. The last pie that I made this year had a butter crust made with European sweet butter, which is higher in fat than regular butter. That crust tasted good, but it wasn't as flaky as I had hoped. I opted to make a peach pie while peaches still are in season.

Mother Butter gave me a crust recipe calling for two cups of lard, but I opted to use the following Joy of Cooking recipe to make the crust less heavy:

2 1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp of sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
1 C lard
1 stick of butter
2/3 C ice water

Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly. Use a pastry knife to cut the lard and butter into the flour until the fat has been reduced to small pebbles. Add the ice water and mix gently until clumps form. Divide the dough into halves, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

The dough had a slightly piggy smell that I found off-putting. The smell disappeared when the dough was refrigerated.

For the filling, I peeled, pitted and sliced 5 large peaches. The slices were mixed with 1/2 C of sugar, the juice from a whole lemon — about 3 tablespoons — and 2 tablespoons of corn starch. I let the peach mixture soak while I rolled out the dough and cut the second half into slices for a lattice.

The pie cooked in 40 minutes, a little more than half the time mentioned in the recipe. I used a ceramic pie dish, instead of the glass dish used on my last two pies, and attribute the shorter cooking time to the ceramic dish.

As expected, the pie crust was flakier than my butter crust, but it also was greasy and heavy. The dough had turned a deep brown during cooking, and the crust gave a nutty, rich flavor that went well with the sweet peaches. Still, I prefer my desserts to be sweeter and less heavy, and to get my fat from rich entrees and sauces. The next time I make pie, I'll avoid the piggy smell and use an all-butter crust. I'm saving the lard to make frijoles, black bean roles, and huevos motulenos.

19 Responsesto “Lard”

  1. Kate says:

    I keep bacon drippings in the refrigerator and use the lard to add flaor to things like green beans or pan-seared scallops...it's also perfect for making grilled cheese =)

  2. pyewacket says:

    Personally, I like my pie crust half-butter, half-lard. Crispy, some butter flavor, but with a subtle undertone of something meaty. Then again, I'm from New England, and we have retained here a fondness for not very sweet sweets. (Krispy Kreme is failing here.) I prefer cheddar cheese with my apple pie, and I've used lard in gingerbread successfully. But not necessary to everyone's taste.

  3. Joanne says:

    I find when making lard and tallow that there is a specific window of time when the crispy pieces begin to burn and leave the fat with a bitter taste. This is especially so with tallow. Pouring off the lard a bit at a time will avoid this. Because Pig fat has a lot of monounsaturated fat, it's best to render lard at low temperature over a longer time. It will last longer before going rancid this way.
    Blessings
    Joanne

  4. Peter Werner says:

    I'm responding to this blog entry way after the posting, but I'm fairly knowledgeable about lard (I'm the main author of the Wikipedia article on the topic), so there's a couple of things that I'll point out that might be useful for future readers.

    First, the topic of leaf lard vs. backfat lard. The quality of lard as a shortening is related to its relative hardness, with leaf lard being the hardest fat on the pig's body. The melting point of backfat lard is typically much lower than that of leaf lard – typically around 115 °F for leaf lard and about 95° for backfat, which means backfat will tend to be greasier at room temperature and can more easily oversaturate a pie dough with liquid fat. If this is the only kind of lard you can find, its percentage in pie dough needs to be limited to probably no more than about a third of the fat content, at least, if you're making a typical high-fat content pie dough.

    Unfortunately, leaf lard is damn near impossible to find. (Here in the SF Bay Area, I can't find a local equivalent of Skagit Farms who has it even sometimes – most pork butchers throw the stuff away as "offal"!) I'm going to try experimenting with a blend of backfat lard and tallow to try and come up with something a little closer in hardness and shortenting quality to leaf lard – I'll report back if and when I come up with something.

    The other thing I wanted to point out is that there are two primary methods of rendering lard – wet-rendering and dry-rendering. The method you used was dry-rendering, and that's why it has more of a browned flavor. I use a wet-rendering method where I boil the pork fat on medium heat with an equal amount of water, skimming off the nearly pure fat, then adding more water and letting more fat melt off. A number of repeated cycles of this will render most of the fat (though you don't get fried cracklings as a by-product). Once you chill the lard, the water will simply separate out, just like when you clarify butter. (I'll typically melt and re-chill the resulting fat after draining away the water to get rid of any remaining water.)

    This wet-rendering method will produce a nice neutral-flavored lard that's ideal for baking.

    Hope this helps,
    Peter

  5. DairyQueen says:

    Hi Peter: I have 25 pounds of backfat (the butcher calls it fatback?) sitting in my freezer waiting for rendering day, so this is very helpful. The best way to get leaf lard around here in the Bay Area seems to be through a hog share, as we did; I'm not much of a baker, so I let others have the 10 pounds of leaf lard from our 240 pound hog. You might also try asking Prather Ranch in the Ferry Building, or Severino Butchers near Santa Cruz.

    Question: In the wet rendering method, how does one "skim off" the fat? And have you cubed it first?

  6. Peter Werner says:

    Sorry it took me a while to respond. Anyway, when I wet-render lard, I chop the pieces of fat up pretty small, then boil it with water. I usually let it boil down on a medium heat until I end up with a mixture of cubes of fat and melted lard. (There's a point where it rather visibly goes from a lard/water emulsion to more or less pure lard.) Rather than heating the lard further and having it brown, I just pour it off through several layers of cheesecloth. Then I add more water and continue to boil the remaining chunks of fat. I continue doing this until a certain point of diminishing returns are reached, and little else can be extracted. The lard that has been separated off is then cooled in the refrigerator, and remaining water separates out. I'll typically melt and cool the remaining lard one more time, which seems to be good for getting rid of any remaining water.

    What's a "hog share" and who would I get in touch with about this?

    Peter

  7. Tom says:

    Do you have or do you know of where we can buy (Lard) in 25lb block or what ever need large somes.
    thank you

  8. Man of La Muncha says:

    Tom, it depends on where you are located. Most likely, you will need to contact a rancher at your local farmer's market or get in touch with a meat CSA.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I love lard and have made a pie out of it. The pie consisted of three 500g blocks of lard and 7kg of bacon.

    I think lard should replace margarine and butter as the main sandwich spread, as I have iot all the time and it tastes nice.

  10. Axem Black says:

    yeah now I can understand why so many Americans get heart disease. that's ridiculous man.

  11. kat says:

    sounds gross

  12. Rebecca says:

    Lard is actually much healthier for you than butter, and people used animal fat for centuries before the FDA suddenly decided it was bad for us. It has a lot less saturated fat than butter, and more than twice the mono unsaturated fats. Hold your judgement until you know what you're talking about please, Axem and kat.

  13. Jeanne says:

    Amen, Rebecca, lard is not nearly as bad for you as people seem to think. I didn't see any discussion here about Lardo. Lardo is pork fat from sustainably raised pigs in Italy (certain areas specialize in this). The pork fat is cured with seasonings and salt (which create a brine) in marble containers, usually for 6 months. It is fantastic, thinly sliced and put on bruschetta, or put on risotto. It melts and becomes translucent, pure heaven!

    SO, I was at the farmer's market Saturday at the Ferry Terminal Bldg in San Francisco. Lo and behold Marin Sun Farms had packages of pork back fat! I promptly bought it and will make lardo (found a recipe on line, no marble required) and will render the rest for use in cooking. I am so surprised by how many people gag over pork fat. I gag over margerine!! I be Marin Sun Farms would have leaf lard, which I have always wanted to try. Next Saturday maybe.....

  14. Helen says:

    A long time after the initial posting, but FYI to readers in the Bay Area: Boulette's Larder in the Ferry Plaza has leaf and back lard. I recommend 1/4 to 1/3 lard, 3/4 to 2/3 pastured butter for piecrust.

  15. Chark says:

    Thank you all for the information - I am a new pastry cook - Quiches - and still working on getting the pastry to my satisfaction. I live in New England and through a CSA web site found a local farmer able to provide leaf lard. Tomorrow I begin rendering. As for the health question (Heart Disease) May I suggest those concerned read "Eat Food, not too much, Mostly Plants". I am not convinced animal fats are a cause.

  16. Paul says:

    I'll gladly swap lard and curing info for a homemade lardo recipe.

  17. Chark says:

    Just to follow up on my rendering and pastry making experience with lard. Here is the scoop:

    2.75 lb of leaf lard produced about 26 fluid ounces of lard - I need 4oz for a single pie crust.
    Your best friend is time, very slow heat and slow cooling.
    To make it worth while next time I will get 5lb of leaf lard.
    Tools: Large stock pot, Metal colander, Large metal bowl, glass measuring jug, skimming spoon, plastic containers to store rendered lard. A skimming jug would be helpful and the Oxo spoon sifter. A Small pot and steamer basket or double boiler are needed later.

    Method: Cut the leaf lard into small pieces (because I started with frozen leaf lard - it was partially cooked before I cut it up) and put it in the stock pot with lots of water – enough so that when the colander sits in the stock pot it pushes down the leaf lard pieces. Bring water to the boil and then lower heat as far as possible. Skim off fat from inside colander into the metal bowl. You will in the process pick up water and small nodules of leaf lard matter. To conserve heat and keep the skimmed fat molten sit the metal bowl in the colander but only if the bottom is about the surface of the fat/water. Continue to skim until no more fat can be obtained. Let the fat in the metal bowel set, then break through the fat to drain off the water on the bottom. Now we need to remove residual water trapped in the fat and the leaf lard crud stuck on the bottom. Spoon the hard partially processed fat into a glass measuring jug (or skimming jug) and place the jug in a smaller pan of hot water on a steamer or double boiler. Once the fat is molten a little scum will come to the surface – skim this off. Do not disturb the liquid. If there are a lot of leaf lard nodules you may need to run the liquid through a fine sieve, before continuing with the process of refining the lard. These very small leaf lard nodules will sink to the bottom of the jug as the liquid cools, but cool it slowly to facilitate this and keep the fat pourable. Pour measured amount of purified fat into plastic containers. Repeat as necessary, until the process becomes inefficient.

    My pastry recipe calls for 4 fluid oz of lard and 2 of butter for 2 cups of flour (Next time I will increase the proportion of lard by 1 oz) I was very impressed with the texture and flavor - much better than all butter which is what I had used before.

    Out of curiosity I have checked a couple of supermarkets for lard - one did not have it and the other had only partially hyrogenated lard - which I would not eat as (although the package did not report it) this has to have trans fats in the same way that partially hyrogenated vegetable oils have.

  18. paul says:

    I just bought a butcher pig and am having the leaf lard saved for us to render.  I also found a butcher in my area that said they would call me when they had some.  They called three days ago and I went to get it yesterday.  They gave, that is right, gave me five pounds.  We rendered it last night and will use it in a pie crust soon.  I also have two weiner pigs comming next week to grow out for butchering in about six months.  They will be fed culls from the organic farm i work at, organic grain from a small brewery, and whey from grass fed raw milk.  If the first two do well I will get a breeding pair next and start raising organic pork to sell.

    We already have pastured chicken, turkey, eggs and beef from our own land.  Food is pretty special around here!

  19. Jodi says:

    I just ordered the book "Nourishing Traditions," and then happened to stumble upon this website. This is such good information. Here in Vermont, we have a friend in Cabot that raises pigs for us and then sends them out to be butchered. I now plan to tell them to save all the leaf lard and back fat (I think in the past it was just thrown away!) Thank you...