Lard. The word is so full of mixed connotations in our society I’m not sure if I should even discuss it. As I have really enjoyed learning how to make and cook with lard though, I’ll write up how I render it myself (and why) for those of you who might also want to do so.
This is part 1, where I give my reasoning (in brief) for choosing this source of fat. I’ll also provide a few facts about it for those who might be unfamiliar with what it is. The next post, part 2, is where I explain how to actually make it.
What is lard?
“Lard” is simply the rendered (melted down) fat from a pig. “Tallow” is rendered fat from a cow. “Rendering” fat means to put a chunk of raw fat from the animal in a pot of some sort and melt it down to separate the fat itself from the tissues and muscles, as well as evaporate the water.
Isn’t lard a “bad” fat?
I did a lot of research a while back on healthy fats. Not surprisingly, there are two main camps: the ‘lard and butter are bad and everyone knows it’ side, and the ‘lard and butter are actually healthy fats’ side.
I’ll spare you the details, but what I learned was really quite surprising. Turns out the idea of “lard is bad” was primarily driven by campaigns to sell highly processed seed oils like cottonseed and canola (rapeseed) after World War II. These oils were sold as lubricants for guns and machinery. When the war was over there were a lot of farms producing them who now needed another purpose. After an intense “refining” process, they could be labeled as “edible” and used for food.
A poor-quality study was done and the results skewed to show saturated fats are bad. Sure enough, lard and butter have saturated fats. (Nowadays this is no longer considered true – saturated fats are not the enemy.) Lots of money was spent on the most expensive national campaign at that time – turning the population away from natural fats and to processed seed oils. Thus formed the modern-day belief that we are better off cooking with Crisco than lard, margarine than butter.
After delving down a long scientific research path, I was completely amazed at the studies which have been done showing lard and butter to be far superior to more modern refined oils. The side claiming these older fats to be bad had a lot of allegations but were utterly lacking in facts.
I won’t go into all the health benefits, but here are a couple examples of some information which is left out of the general ‘lard is bad’ narrative: Lard is high in both vitamin D and B vitamins (the highest vitamin D source in nature). It also contains lots of oleic acid, an omega-9 which is linked with preventing heart disease and lowering cholesterol.
I understand everyone’s bodies are different. What is good for me might very well not be good for you, and the purpose of this post is not to convince you to eat lard or say you are wrong for whatever dietary/health decisions you make. For my family, I decided to learn the art of using lard (and butter, but that one is easier). If you want to do the same, keep reading.
Where to get lard
I would recommend NOT buying lard from the store. 1, because of the additives and 2, because of the pigs it comes from. 1 – Most store-bought lard also contain highly processed other oils as well as preservatives. In addition it has been hydrogenated to preserve it longer (not a healthy process). 2 – Nasty chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides are stored in the fat cells of animals. Feed-lot pigs are fed diets high in these chemicals, and they will be present in their fat.
You probably won’t be able to buy “lard” (already rendered) at a butcher or the farmers market, but you can get the fat and do it yourself. (It’s a long process – not hard, but time intensive and not something the animal processors want to deal with.)
At our farm we got pigs for meat and lard. They were two years old before they were inclined to reproduce, and I wanted to make lard before we had pig fat available from our pigs. To get some pork fat, I initially went to a local butcher shop.
While it wasn’t necessarily from organically raised or even pasture raised pigs, I figured they probably had a lot less chemicals being raised out in the country locally than store bought pig fat did.
Farmers markets can also be a good option. I have since found a pasture-raised pig farm at a farmers market who sells their pig fat. They are now my go-to for making lard when I don’t have it on hand from our pigs.
Types of pig fat
Pig fat comes with multiple terms. “Leaf” fat is the most coveted for lard. It surrounds the kidneys of the pig and has the least amount of flavor. It’s considered ideal for baking when you don’t want a “piggy” smell or taste, like pastries. This fat is a pure white color after rendering.
“Back strap” or back fat is the most common fat. It is what it sounds like – fat from the back of the pig. It is much more abundant on the pig and comes as a large thick strip. If properly rendered (low and slow), this fat also has very little flavor but is not quite pure white in color, it has a very slight brown tint. I mainly use back fat for my lard and use it for all applications (deep frying, sautéing, fried eggs/potatoes, baking, etc) without unwanted piggy flavors.
“Caul” fat is a small, thin, lacy strip of fat which surrounds the stomach. It is not used for lard to my knowledge, but quite enjoyed by many people who love to wrap it around other foods while baking or frying to give a piggy/bacon flavor and add moisture. I have never used it but I know some people do and love it.
Still interested? Now that you know a bit more about it, head over to the next post to learn how to actually make it.