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Much-maligned lard makes a comeback

By Sylvia Carter
Correspondent

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  • More lard resources

    How to render lard: Simple directions for rendering lard, either using a slow cooker or on the stove, are at polyfacehenhouse.com/2009/05/how-to-make-lard/. Tip from Renee Parker of Hurdle Mills: Cut the fat in small pieces to get the most lard out of it. Also, do not be concerned if the rendered lard looks yellow at first. It will turn white in the refrigerator as it hardens.

    • Lard Lovers, a network of resources to help in finding organic and/or sustainable sources of lard nationwide, lardlovers.ning.com. To read founder Linda Joyce Forristal’s article “The Rise and Fall of Crisco,” go to motherlindas.com/crisco.htm.

    • “Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient,” by the editors of Grit Magazine, Andrews McMeel Publishing, $24.99, lard lore and recipes, available through Amazon and other booksellers, and on Kindle.

     

    Where to buy: Rock House Farm farm store, 1120 N. Green St., Morganton, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday in winter; at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, 1801 Yorkmont Road, Charlotte, on most Saturday mornings; and at the Morganton Farmers Market, 514 N. Green St. Leaf lard (for rendering yourself) is $4.50 a pound; rendered lard is $9 a pound. Other local farms also sell rendered lard from heritage-breed pigs at local farmers markets, including Grateful Growers Farm.


  • Mother Linda’s Lard Pie Crust

    This is slightly adapted from a recipe by Linda Joyce Forristal, founder of Lard Lovers, which helps lard lovers locate lard from pastured pigs in their area. The amount of water will depend on the flour you use; add the water a little at a time after the first 1/2 cup. For more information, visit lardlovers.ning.com.

    2 1/2 cups unbleached white or whole wheat pastry flour, or a combination

    1 teaspoon sea salt

    1/2 cup lard, organic or from pastured pigs

    1/2 to 3/4 cup cold water, still or sparkling

    MEASURE flour into a medium-size bowl, add salt and stir. Add lard and use a pastry cutter, a fork or clean fingertips to cut the lard into pea-sized pieces, until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. You can confidently add the first 1/2 cup of water, but continue adding the remaining 1/4 cup of water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together. Lightly knead with your hands to make a ball and then divide into 2 equal parts. Do not overwork the dough.

    RESHAPE each part into a ball and then flatten into a disk. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling out.

    Yield: two 10-inch pie crusts.


  • Lard primer

    Leaf lard: The highest grade and most prized, leaf lard is the 6 to 10 pounds of visceral fat per pig that comes from around the kidneys. It is a neutral-tasting fat. Leaf lard is also softer than other lard. Though lard can be rendered from any fatty part of a pig, lard from other sections may have a more “porky” flavor.

    Unsalted fatback: Fatback is the layer of subcutaneous fat beneath the skin of the pig’s back and also makes good lard.

    Salted, or cured, fatback: Fatback with the skin left on is also processed into slab bacon, but then it is salty and rendering it only results in bacon grease. That’s a desirable seasoning for, say, green beans, but not appropriate for pie crust. However, bacon grease can be part of the fat in biscuits, is the best fat for cornbread, and can be used with good results in a spicy cake such as gingerbread, as advocated by John Thorne, author of the Simple Cooking newsletter and several books with his wife Matt Lewis Thorne.

    Lard: When you buy something without knowing whether it is leaf lard or fatback, it is probably rendered from unsalted fatback, though sometimes both kidney lard and unsalted fatback may be rendered together.

    Lardo: Uncured fatback or leaf lard, cut into thin slivers, has been served on toast and pizza as Italian lardo. Mario Batali was one of the first chefs to do this in the United States.

    Streak o’ Lean: Fatback with some meat still attached, often used as a seasoning. Because of the bits of meat in it, this cut of pork is not suitable for pie crust.

    Cracklings: Crisp bits left after rendering pork fat.

    Cracklin’ bread: Cornbread made with cracklings.

    Chicharron: Spanish term for crisp-fried fatback.


  • Mantecaditos

    From Roberto Capo Matos of The Old Havana Sandwich Shop in Durham. The first part of the word is Spanish for lard, and the ending indicates that these irresistible little cookies are small. “I knew what mantecaditos made by my grandmother tasted like,” Capo Matos said, and he changed a recipe until the taste memory became just right.

    1 1/2 cups pure lard (not commercial)

    1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter

    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

    6 cups unbleached organic all-purpose flour

    3/4 cup sugar

    1 (14-ounce) tin guava paste (you will have some leftover for the next batch or another use)

    PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees for a convection oven). In a medium saucepan, melt lard and butter, taking care not to brown or burn it. Remove from heat and let cool for 2 or 3 minutes. Add vanilla.

    PLACE butter and sugar in bowl and whisk together. Add shortening and vanilla mixture and stir until mixture comes together, working with clean hands at the last, if need be. Form into small balls, about 1.5 ounces each; place on ungreased cookie sheet, and use the heel of your hand to press dough down lightly. (The dough may also be formed into 4 equal cylinders, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and refrigerated until you are ready to continue, then cut intop 3/4-inch to 1-inch slides.)

    CUT guava paste into small cubes. Make a small depression, about the size of a pencil eraser, in the center of each cookie (Roberto uses the end of a knife-sharpening steel to do this.) Fill each with a dot of guava paste.

    BAKE 10 to 15 minutes in a convection oven, or about 18 to 20 minutes in a conventional oven, until cookies are set and are a light brown color. Remove from oven; at first, the cookies will be fragile, so do not remove to a cooling rack or space for 5 minutes.

    Yield: about 70 cookies.


  • Feather Spice Lard Cake

    There are a number of Feather Spice Cake recipes on the internet, but they do not contain lard. This has been in my recipe file box for so long that I am not sure where I got it.

    2 eggs, separated

    1 1/2 cups sugar, divided

    1/3 cup lard

    2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour

    1 teaspoon baking powder

    3/4 teaspoon baking soda

    1 teaspoon salt

    3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

    1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or mace

    1/4 teaspoon cloves

    1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, divided

    BEAT egg whites until frothy. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup of the sugar.Keep beating until very sti! and glossy.

    STIR lard in another bowl to soften it; cream in 1 cup sugar. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg or mace and cloves Add dry ingredients with 3/4 cup of the buttermilk. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute, scraping bottom and sides of bowl.

    ADD remaining buttermilk and the egg yolks. Beat 1 minute, scraping.

    GENTLY fold in whites mixture.

    SCRAPE into 2 greased and floured 8-inch-round pans or a 13x9x2-inch pan. Bake in preheated 350 oven for 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Cool. Fill and frost with seafoam frosting (7-Minute frosting made with brown sugar) or caramel frosting.

    Yield: 1 cake



Charlie Sasser’s mother used lard in everything she cooked. Today, he runs the store for Rock House Farm in Morganton, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At 87, he still scrambles his eggs in lard.

In the 1930s when times were hard, he recalled, his family would travel from Wilmington in their Model A Ford to a relative’s farm east of Clinton and bring back lard, butter, eggs and meat.

“Our laps were full on the way back,” Sasser remembered.

Lard, Sasser said, was a mainstay for pie crust, biscuits, fried chicken, even cookies and cakes. Vegetables were seasoned with a few tablespoons of lard.

For decades, health-conscious cooks shunned lard because animal fats have long been associated with heart disease. Now it’s making a comeback. In fact, Sasser sells lard that comes from pigs raised on his family farm.

But Rock House Farm lard is light years away from the blocks of additive-laden commercial lard found in grocery stores. (For many years the trend has been toward pigs so lean they gave little lard to render.) Shelf-stable, hydrogenated shortenings, which we now know are saturated fats, took lard’s place in pie crusts and biscuits and in the handed-down cast-iron skillets where chicken and fish were fried.

Along with an increasing number of small farms in North Carolina and across the country, Rock House is raising pigs outdoors instead of in confinement. And once again, those pigs provide lard that, it now turns out, is rich with health benefits, said Tara Wind, a registered dietitian at Wake Med Raleigh.

“A lot of the rise in animal fats is from consumers becoming more educated,” said Wind. Farmers markets helped people learn to eat better, she added.

“For so long, people bought in the supermarket, and now they know that so much is synthetic and we’re putting that in our bodies.” Supermarket lard is usually hydrogenated, she pointed out, which makes it more like the synthetic hydrogenated fats. Wind favors eating fat “from animals that were raised on what they’re supposed to be eating,” she said.

“The fat in an animal is from an animal’s diet,” and, she said, fat from pigs allowed to forage is higher in omega-3. A grain-fed or feedlot animal, Wind said, “is not as nutritious,” because they are not eating their natural diet.

Lard Lovers network

Wind advocates balance. “You also need olive oil and coconut oil,” she said. “Don’t swap out other fats for lard 100 per cent.” (Olive oil does break down at a lower temperature, so it is best for dressing salads or as a grace note to a cooked dish.) Lard is about 45 per cent monounsaturated fat – the more healthful kind – and butter is only about 23 per cent, she said.

Lard is high in monounsaturated fat and oleic acid, which combats bad cholesterol, and is able to take high heat without breaking down the way oils do. It contains no trans fat.

“Lard is more monounsaturated than saturated,” said Linda Joyce Forristal, a professor in the tourism and hospitality department at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who started Lard Lovers, an online network, about five years ago. It is now a band nearly 500 strong of those who celebrate lard.

“I would prefer to eat lard, knowing the source of it, than oil that I don’t know the source of,” said Roberto Copa Matos. A trained biochemist turned chef, he renders lard to sell at his Durham restaurant, Old Havana Sandwich Shop, and uses it in cooking.

The Paleo or “primal” diet that has steadily gained adherents in recent years has been a factor in the lard revival. Abby Mulchi, a veterinarian in George Hildebrand, a small community near Morganton, uses lard in curries and to saute the meat she and her husband Matt, a kennel assistant, use in following a Paleo Diet.

“We don’t use store-bought lard,” Mulchi said. “We know Rock House lard is high in omega-3 fatty acids.”

‘Pork essence’

On a recent rainy day, Rock House farm manager Asher Wright, 28, bounced along Brown Mountain Beach Road toward the farm in a mud-spattered pickup while talking about the “cultural disconnect” that happened as people abandoned lard for such replacements as hydrogenated shortening, margarine and soy-based spreads. Wright earned a degree in sustainable agriculture from Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa Valley and followed it with an animal-science master’s degree from Clemson University on forage-finishing beef.

Wright tromped through muddy fields and forests to check on the pigs, mostly Berkshires, a Japanese breed named Kurabota (prized for fat content), Large Blacks, Gloucestershire Old Spots and a few Tamworths. These breeds out of the past are gaining favor again. They feed on native persimmons, perennial rye, fescue, white and red clover, tree roots and native wild nuts such as hickory, supplemented by molasses and grains, including spent brewer’s grain from Catawba Valley Brewing.

This varied diet gives their meat a “rich, earthy flavor profile,” Wright said, a kind of “pork-essence taste.”

Rock House Farm’s store has no display cases, just five big chest freezers, which Charlie Sasser obligingly opens for customers. When they see the lard, they begin to reminisce about the ways their grandmothers used lard. Sasser likes to boast that people come from Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina in search of lard.

And in Charlotte, Sasser’s son Tom uses the pork and lard at his Mimosa Grill and at Upstream and the Harper’s restaurant group.

The ‘secret ingredient’

Some lard fans say their beloved fat has a somewhat porky taste that is too strong for some uses. Susan McCann, 52, of Morganton, another Paleo Diet adherent, mixes it with coconut oil. On a recent evening, she sauteed asparagus in that combo.

“A few hundred years ago,” McCann said, “people ate a better ratio of omega 6 to omega 3.” Lard from pastured pigs, she said, helps restore that balance. Still, McCann added, it is hard for people to accept “the idea that lard won’t kill them.”

In Rock Hill, Toni Hendrix has gotten on the bandwagon, too. She called Rock House in search of lard after she read the book “Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient” by the editors of Grit Magazine.

“I just remembered how really much better the pie crust would be with lard,” Hendrix said. The lard she found in the grocery store was commercial and heavily processed, the kind the book warned against buying. She plans to use Rock House lard to attempt biscuits, which have always given her trouble.

“If I go back to the way my grandmother did it (with lard), maybe I could do it,” she said.

Carter is a former food writer and columnist at Newsday on Long Island, N.Y. She can be reached at sylviacarter111@yahoo.com.
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