Lard gets a makeover

Once a staple fat in the home cook's repetoire, lard fell out of favor at the turn of the 20th century. Part of lard's demise can be attributed to shelf-stable substitutes like shortening, which was created by companies looking for a use for the fat from which they used to make candles prior to electricity. Another portion of the blame falls on repeated warnings to consumers about the health risks of saturated animal fats. But in recent years lard has made a comeback, thanks to better understanding of the role played by fats in the diet and by farm-to-table trends. Many bakers swear by lard in their pie crusts, and Modern Farmer magazine reports on the rise of artisanal lard.

Even though lard's fortunes are on the upswing, it can be difficult for most people to find fresh lard. While supermarkets may carry several brands of lard, almost all of it is hydrogenated and contains added preservatives. Consumers must find a friendly hog farmer or the rare butcher who still slaughters onsite to find the good stuff. Part of the problem is that many small farmers don't know that people want lard.

June Russell, manager of development and inspections for an organization that operates NYC farmers' markets, notes that farmers often throw away the fat that makes this precious resource. "A lot of times, our farmers don't know what they have. They'll say, 'Are you kidding me? This is something that we're throwing away.' I let them know this product has value, and that they should put it out there and see how it does," says Russell. "People are not afraid of it. If they get the value of meat that's been raised sustainably, they get the fact that lard is part of that."

Elizabeth Swenson notes in her book The Artisan Lard Cookbook of Old World Breads and Spreads that when she was growing up in rural Minnesota, rendering lard "was a common practice...In this lifestyle, we ate close to the source, and the value of the practice was instilled in me." She was inspired to write the cookbook after purchasing a quart of home-rendered lard at a Saturday swap meet.

Read more, including the role of CSAs in lard's resurgence, on the Modern Farmer website. Do you use lard in your cooking or baking? What's your favorite use for it?

3 Comments

  • AliciaWarren  on  8/30/2014 at 1:52 AM

    "But in recent years lard has made a comeback, thanks to better understanding of the role played by fats in the diet and by farm-to-table trends." This is glossing over the main reason that I avoid lard without providing any information. I've been told by my doctor that when choosing fats and oils to minimise saturated fats (found in higher quanties in animal fats) and look for monosaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats (often found in vegetable oils). So if there is now evidence-based information to overturn this advice I'd like it summarised and referenced so I can check it out for myself. Or it might just be wishful thinking on behalf of a seller of lard.

  • Foodycat  on  8/30/2014 at 7:17 AM

    Here are a couple of articles - the first one is particularly good about explaining how flawed data became received wisdom. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/the-science-of-saturated-fat-a-big-fat-surprise-about-nutrition-9692121.html The second outlines more of the current thinking, but shows that it is far from clear-cut http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10679227/Saturated-fat-is-not-bad-for-health-says-heart-expert.html

  • darcie_b  on  8/30/2014 at 7:31 AM

    I think the article was referring to the science of lard vs. partially hydrogenated fats like shortening, which is what replaced lard for the most part. FWIW Lard has less saturated fat than butter, and some foods just don't work well with liquid fats (e.g. pie crusts).

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