It's about time I finally wrote a blog post about my sweet sweet lard. It is no secret that I have a serious love for lard and how magical it is. A healthy animal fat that has been villainized due to the shift away from pastured pork to commercial factory farming has resulted in a general opinion that lard is an evil fat. Now, let me be clear. When I am speaking about all of the benefits of pork fat/lard, I am referring to pastured pork. Pigs raised outside, in the sun, rooting around in the soil and eating greens as nature intended. This does not apply to feedlot raised, barn stall raised, confined pork...because yes that is the villain.
Lard rendered from pastured pork is a healthy and stable animal fat. There is a perceived idea that lard is an artery clogging, heart attack causing, unhealthy fat. Yes, this is the case when you are talking about pigs raised in confined factory operations (CFO) or similar housing. But, we aren't about those pigs here! Pigs store the vitamin D they get from spending all day in the sun and foraging on greens in their fat. Once rendered into lard, only a couple tablespoons a day can provide you with your daily requirement of liquid sun. Lard is also high in fatty acids such as oleic acid, and when you raise pastured pigs finished on acorns, the high level of omega-3's they get from the acorns are stored in the fat as well! Lard also has a well balanced ratio of saturated: monounsaturated fats, and next to olive oil, it contains the highest quantity of monounsaturated fats of any cooking oil. I could go on and on, but I think you get the gist of it. Lard truly is a nutrient dense super fat in the kitchen.
So What is It?
Lard simply put is pork fat rendered and clarified. So, you have solid pork fat that is very slowly melted (renders) where it collected, strained, and stored. Lard is a multipurpose cooking oil that can be used for sautéing, frying, and baking. However, not all pork fat is created equal. There really are two main types of fat that I personally use:
** Because of the differences in the lard caused by the types of fats I render them separately and label them so I know I don't use my precious leaf lard for frying and vice versa!
The amount of fat that you get when processing can vary between hogs. While diet and age are major factors, another is the breed of pig. Pigs used to be categorized as either "lard pigs" or "bacon pigs", but with the shift towards CFO's, this designation isn't really used anymore. Today, breeds such as Yorkshires aka "skinny/pink pigs" as I like to call them, are the choice hog for commercial pork industries. Why? Because they're lean, and put on weight fast. Lean= no fat, so don't expect to get much pork fat in a yorkshire or yorkshire cross. Heritage breeds are going to be your best bet to get the most pork fat, as well as the best marbling and flavor.
How To Render It
So now that you have acquired your pasture raised pork fat (be it back fat, leaf fat, or both) it's time to render it! Like I said above, I render mine separately so that I have my "baking" and "frying" lard, but if you choose to mix them together that's your choice. One thing to note is that this is not a process you want to rush. Rushing leads to overcooking the fat which leads to less than ideal lard. When properly rendered, the cooled lard will have a snow white appearance. Any brown color means that it was overcooked. So, do yourself a favor and do this on a day that you know you're going to be in or near the kitchen all day long.
Storing Your Lard
There are may different opinions out there on how you can store your lard. When properly rendered with all water that you added initially evaporated, lard is a shelf stable fat. Meaning, it can sit out at room temperature and not spoil or go rancid. Some prefer to keep it on the shelf in their root cellar, others store it in their fridge/freezer. Just to be on the extra safe side, I pressure can mine @ 10 pounds of pressure for 2 hours. This puts my mind at ease and I know without a doubt that it will last on the shelf as long as I need it to. Whatever storage method you use just use your best asset in the kitchen. Your nose. Does it smell rancid or spoiled? If it does, then it probably is. If it doesn't smell funky or look funky then cook away!
Lard is a wonderful traditional and nutritious fat that frankly is my personal favorite. I know how we raise our pigs and how highly nutritious their meat and fat are. By rendering all of the back fat and leaf lard, I am minimizing waste as well as benefitting from the nutrition. I am always just about to run out when it comes time to process our next hog. Yes, I use it that much! So, let's hear it for the lard and if you have never cooked with this highly nutritious fat, I can't recommend it enough. Once you give it a try you'll be hooked!
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