How to Render Lard

Pig in a net on the way to the dog crate in the car.

Happy piglet on his way to a new home down the road. 

First, start with a happy little piglet that your neighbor has offered to grow for you with his other piglets. Let that happy pig live in a nice pen and eat good food, and never know a moment’s suffering in his six month life. Then let the neighborhood meat processor, whose motto is “We pet ’em, then shoot ’em,” take care of the hard part, and deliver you several huge bags of frozen cuts of the finest pork money can buy. Be sure to ask for the fat, too.

Stout, all cut up and frozen, in the back of the car on the way home to the freezers.

Stout, all cut up and frozen, in the back of the car on the way home to the freezers.

Bill raised five piglets last winter, and I’ve enjoyed bacon or chops from at least three of them around the neighborhood since they were slaughtered in April. I split a pig with a friend, and thought I’d have enough pork to last two years, but it’s going fast. We all wish a pig were all bacon.

Or ham steaks. Bacon and ham steaks. That would be great if a pig were all bacon and ham steaks.

Or ham steaks. Bacon and ham steaks. That would be great if a pig were all bacon and ham steaks.

Many delicious BLTs were had at Mirador this summer with homegrown tomatoes and homegrown bacon, on homemade bread from Small Potatoes Farm.

Many delicious BLTs were enjoyed at Mirador this summer with homegrown tomatoes and homegrown bacon, on homemade bread from Small Potatoes Farm.

This ethicarian way of eating is a far cry from factory farming. For half my life my rule has been I’ll eat meat if I know who killed it. This credo has allowed me to enjoy eating meat with little compunction for almost thirty years; I understand there are still problems with the suffering of animals, but in a life where compromise is inevitable this seems like a reasonable ethic. Knowing who killed the animal, and deciding whether to indulge based on what I know about that person’s process and ethics and how the animal lived, has let me be nourished by the protein from deer, elk, beef, pork, chicken, and fish, without the physical and emotional contamination of growth hormones, antibiotics, toxins, and egregious suffering that come from factory farming. And sharing in the meat grown or hunted locally strengthens my bonds with my community.

Gabrielle took the heads and feet of Stout and Porky, to do her own culinary wizarding with. I hear the heads were tasty....

Gabrielle took the heads and feet of Stout and Porky, to do her own culinary wizarding with. I hear the heads were tasty….

And finally, a few weeks ago, I took the fat out of the freezer and I made lard. There are two types of fat that come from a pig: back fat and kidney fat. Some say the kidney fat is the purest and best for making pastry. Another website I consulted suggests that it’s the first rendering of either that produces the clean white fluffy stuff.

I let the back fat thaw just a little to make chopping it easier, and cut it into chunks of about an inch, then ran it through the meat grinder.

I let the back fat thaw just a little to make chopping it easier, and cut it into chunks of about an inch, then ran it through the meat grinder.

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Over a low gas flame in a Dutch oven, I simmered for about an hour. In the oven or in a slow cooker are also options.

Over a low gas flame in a Dutch oven, I simmered for about an hour. In the oven or in a slow cooker are also options.

When the solids were just barely brown and settled to the bottom of the pot, I turned off the heat and ladled through cheesecloth into sterilized pint jars.

When the solids were just barely brown and settled to the bottom of the pot, I turned off the heat and ladled through cheesecloth into sterilized pint jars.

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After ladling off the first round of hot fat, I simmered the remains awhile longer until the cracklins were toasty looking. I ladled off another half-pint of fat and then drained the cracklins. The intention was to serve them as a topping for burgers that night, but when they showed up on the fixins buffet the party gobbled them up by handfuls before the burgers were off the grill.

After ladling off the first round of hot fat, I simmered the remains awhile longer until the cracklins were toasty looking. I ladled off another half-pint of fat and then drained the cracklins. The intention was to serve them as a topping for burgers that night, but when they showed up on the fixins buffet the party gobbled them up by handfuls before the burgers were off the grill.

Beautiful white lard for frying or baking. Four pounds of back fat gave me four and a half pints of first round lard, and another half pint from the second skimming.

Four pounds of back fat gave me four and a half pints of beautiful white lard from the first round, and another half pint from the second skimming, which was darker and smelled a little like bacon. This will be good for sautéing savory selections, while the first round will do for baking as well.

About a week later, I rendered the fat from around the kidneys, also called leaf lard. It was a pound of symmetrical two-lobed fat with much more pink and more connective tissue. I made several mistakes with this lard, and basically ruined it for anything but frying. Instead of grinding it I just chopped it a little smaller than the other and threw it into the skillet like that. This made the fat melt unevenly, so that in my quest for perfection I let it cook way too long trying to get all the pieces equally melted. Some chunks were still fat and pearly while others had already sunk and browned. Also, I was multi-tasking that morning and did not focus completely on the rendering process.

The tip that was left out of all the instructions I sought online was this: skim the first round off while there is still some paleness to the cracklins. THEN render the remainder; which is what I managed to do accidentally with the back fat. So while I will not know this year what perfect leaf lard is like, at least I have plenty of good fluff for pie crusts from the back fat, and the dogs ate extra well for a few days.

The fat from around the kidneys was quite different from the back fat, having a lot more color (okay, blood), and more connective tissue.

The fat from around the kidneys was quite different from the back fat, having a lot more color (okay, blood), and more connective tissue.

Over-cooking the kidney fat led to disappointingly smelly lard and a very stinky house. Fortunately it was still warm enough to open all the windows and doors and clear out the odor before dinner guests arrived. But the cracklins were too dark for anyone but the dogs. Who were pleased.

Over-cooking the kidney fat led to disappointingly smelly lard and a very stinky house. Fortunately it was still warm enough to open all the windows and doors and clear out the odor before dinner guests arrived. But the cracklins were too dark for anyone but the dogs. Who were pleased.

Last night I made the first pie crust with the lard, and realized it will take some adjusting to live up to my pie crust reputation. Usually I just use butter. The lard made the dough much lighter and greasier with the same ratio of shortening to flour, so the next endeavor I’ll start with extra flour. Still, the crust was absolutely melt-in-your-mouth, and the heirloom tomato pie was mouth-watering. Altogether a salivary dinner. I can hardly wait to try the next crust with a delicious fruit pie. And maybe next year I’ll share in another pig.

 

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