Despite the crazy looks we get sometimes, we remain committed to the concept of using the entire animal after its life on earth comes to an end. Call it sentimental, humane, or just plain efficient, we whole-heartedly endorse the idea of minimizing what goes in the rendering barrel by utilizing minor cuts of meat, fat, organs, etc. As with all things, there is a wide array of commitment levels in this regard, from the discerning eater who still can’t stand the sight/smell/texture of liver and onions, to some customers who encouraged us to package and sell chicken feet to make an unbelievably rich and hearty broth! By the way, we still have a package of chicken feet left in the freezer if anyone is interested.
Wherever you find yourself on that scale, I’m here to encourage you to get on board with one underutilized portion of our animals: their fat. Once vilified by the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” crowd, fat is BACK in a big way! But doesn’t fat, especially saturated fat, cause obesity and heart disease? Actually, no… the government scientists got that one wrong (imagine that) by following a fundamentally flawed study called “The Seven Countries Study” which implicated saturated fat while ignoring other factors like activity level, smoking rates, and refined sugar consumption… just to name a few. As a result, we got a food pyramid forced down our throats in the early ’90s and never looked back. Until now. Recent studies are showing that fat, especially from pastured, non-GMO sources like the animals we raise, help our organs stay healthy, our immune systems robust, and our muscles strong. The source turns out to be the most important delineator in healthy fats… think a gas station hot dog vs. a pork chop from one of our pastured pigs.
As your purveyor of pastured animals in the central Ohio area, we offer packages of fat from our hogs. You could fry yourself up a chunk to chew on if you wanted to, but I’m guessing you would prefer instead to render that fat into a more useful substance called lard. Lard is incredibly easy to make, eminently useful in the kitchen, and honestly better than the Crisco vegetable shortening you’ve been poisoning yourself with. You can grease a bread pan or egg skillet, make heavenly pastries, and yes, spread it on a piece of toast if you are brave enough. But for now, let’s concentrate on the very scary sounding but oh-so-easy process of rendering your fat into lard.
The basic premise of rendering lard is to cut your pork fat into chunks, then cook those chunks over low heat to get the solid fat to release it’s liquid deliciousness. Remember to cut your fat while still frozen or chilled… the fat will warm up quickly, becoming sticky and more difficult to work with. Cut the pieces as small as possible to increase the amount of surface area available. We use a knife to cube ours, but I’m curious if a food processor or even a hand grater would work without heating the fat up too much and turning it into a gooey mess. If anyone has experience in that regard, please comment below and share!
Heating the lard can be done in many ways, as long as you avoid direct heat to keep the fat from scorching. In my opinion, the easiest method by far is to use a crockpot on low. It is hassle-free, safe to leave unmonitored, easy to clean, and eliminates most of the danger of burning the lard. However, you can also use a double-boiler on the stovetop, or even a pan in the oven. Whatever you pick, add a 1/4 cup of water (keeps fat from burning initially, and will evaporate as the fat cooks) and your pork cubes, then begin cooking at a low heat. As the fat slowly heats up, you will begin to see the fat cubes soften and “sweat”. They take on a slightly translucent look, then stabilize there for a little while. Right about the time you start to wonder if anything is happening, you’ll begin to see the liquid slowly filling the pot from the bottom up.
This liquid is lard, and can be skimmed off as soon as there is enough to scoop with a ladle, or you can wait until the liquid approaches the top of the container. Whenever you do decide to skim some off, ladle it into a clean jar through a cheese cloth, which will strain out any solid particles. Then stir the remaining fat to prevent the pieces from sticking together and ensure uniform heating. Eventually, those shrunken pieces of fat that are left (called cracklings) will stop floating and sink to the bottom, when that happens you are done! Scoop, ladle and/or pour your lard through the cheese cloth, close the containers, and let them cool on the countertop. As they cool, the light yellow liquid will congeal into a beautiful white solid lard, after which you can store them at room temperature, in the fridge, or in the freezer.
Clean up with soap and water, but before you do that, make sure you enjoy the immediate fruits of your labor! Take those small bits of fat that are left in the bottom of the crock pot or in your cheese cloth, and throw them in a frying pan over medium-high heat. The last little bit of lard will come out, and the cracklings will turn from soft and chewy to a delicious crispy treat. Drain them on a paper towel like you would a piece of bacon, then enjoy hot or store them in a to-go container for later use on salads, as a snack, or 1,000 other ways (note: actual number of ways to enjoy cracklings has not been verified). If you would like to try your hand at this small step towards sustainability and join a different type of “fat is fab” crowd, then give us a call to purchase a package or two of pastured pork fat!