Lard {Yes, that’s what I said: Lard.}

I should admit that, straightaway, this task was a stretch even for me.

In a moment of pure curiosity (lunacy?) and inability to turn down a good deal, or a free deal, I graciously accepted a cooler full of pig fat from a local farmer. Josh from West Wind Acres had a few pigs processed, and had a LOT of fat that would have otherwise been thrown away. I thought it would be a great opportunity to try something new for little expense (basically nothing, except energy to run my stove and the butter muslin I sacrificed to the cracklings). By the way, WWA raises some pretty fantastic meat – pork, chicken and beef from their gorgeous flock of highland cattle. (This advertisement was paid for in pork fat. A whole cooler full.) Seriously though, I felt kind of guilty picking up a whole lotta fat and not buying anything, and we eat very little pork because we bought a side of beef this year and raise our own chickens, so meat is never on the top of my grocery list. BUT I did buy some amazing chops and bacon that my husband stole for his guys only camping trip… I hear it was good but I think I may get more this week and find out for myself.

Anyway, back to the fat.

leaf fat

The pork fat that I got (did I mention there was a LOT of it?) came in two forms, “leaf fat” – the fat around the pig’s liver, and “back fat” – literally, the fat on the back of the pig. It had skin on it. Sorry if this grosses you out but really folks, I dare you to think about it the next time you give your kid a hot dog or enjoy a crispy slice of bacon with your Sunday brunch. If you eat meat, your food once had skin on it and was a living, breathing being. Say thank you to the animal who gave its life for you to enjoy a tasty morsel, and thank your farmer who raised that animal respectfully and responsibly.

According to most sources I could find by googling “rendering lard”, the leaf fat results in the best lard for use in baking, frying, etc, so I thought I’d tackle that first. In the cooler, I had 4 or 5 pieces of leaf fat that were semi-frozen. I chopped them into small pieces, roughly 1/4-1/2″ cubes. As it thawed to room temperature, the fat became harder to cut and my nose began to twitch.

The amount of lard I had to cut filled my large roasting pan about 2 inches deep. I tossed in about 1/2 cup of water so that the fat wouldn’t scorch as it rendered. After all my research, I decided to go with a low & slow approach in the oven. I set my oven to convect at 300º, threw in my watered down fat and went to relax in our basement family room. I came back every 15-20 minutes to give it a stir and the first hour or so was no big deal. After about an hour, my nose started to get a little twitchy again. When I came up the stairs to diligently stir, I was greeted with an intense odor that can only be classified as (not trying to be funny) – melting pig. In the next half-hour I went from twitchy nose to semi-gagging as the lard continued to render and my house proceeded to stink.

At this point, I was kind of freaking out that my furniture might reek for weeks, especially since the lard was still white and solid in parts and there was no golden end in sight. I was not willing to toss all that free fat, though, so I sucked it up, got out some eucalyptus oil to hold under my nose, and stuck it out for almost two more hours. When I had had enough, and the lard looked like I thought it should, I pulled it out of the oven.

Clear, golden liquid fat with golden brown solids floating (cracklings). Now some folks say that the cracklings are deliciously crispy and good for snacking or saving for future use but I drained those suckers into a butter muslin and threw them in the trash. They were NOT crispy, but rather spongy and greasy and stinky and I was over it by that point. My best guess is that they could have been cut up smaller to begin with, or I could have rendered longer, which may have resulted in crisper, less repulsive cracklings.

After straining (photos impossible when pouring hot fat from a huge roasting pan into a small, precariously balanced vessel), I poured the fat into jars. At this point, it really was pretty despite the horrific nauseating stench in my house.

Per instructions from several sources to cool quickly, I refrigerated these babies overnight then loosely capped and threw all but one in the freezer where this stuff should supposedly keep for up to two years. Once it had cooled, the lard turned white as expected, and had the consistency of chilled crisco. The untouched backfat also resides in my big freezer…I’m not really ready to go there again soon!

To mitigate the stench in my house (and particularly in my oven), I ran the self clean cycle on my oven (greatest invention EVER). I also zested two lemons into a small saucepot, cut & squeezed the juice into the pot, and added about 1 cup of water. I let this simmer on my stove the next morning for about 4 hours, adding a little water as necessary. This is a great method for taking the stink out of a place. Luckily, the eau d’ lard did not permeate my walls or upholstery.

I haven’t used the lard yet, for no reason other than that the last week or so had got the best of me and I can barely keep the dishes clean, let alone bake something. There are some really great resources/recipes out there that I’m excited to try, though, including this, this and this. Now that the nights are getting a bit crisper and we’re halfway through August it’s safe to say a pumpkin pie with homemade pie crust will be in my near future!

And since all this fat has got me craving something fresh, here’s a quick salad I made this weekend. Awesome for your garden or farmer’s market tomatoes and peppers which are likely in abundance right now!


Fresh veggies of your liking.

I used

From my CSA: golden tomato (I don’t know the variety, but they’ve been rockin’ for a week or two now), yellow pepper, red pepper, red onion, carrot – chop ’em all up

From my garden: big old cucumber forgotten on the vine, not pretty but still yummy

from my pantry/supermarket: the juice of one lemon, 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, S&P

Mix it all up and enjoy. If your veggies are as fresh as mine were, you will be standing at your refrigerator with a spoon like a late night Ben & Jerry’s addict!


19 Comments Add yours

  1. Josh says:

    Perhaps the crackling was soggy as it was soaking in fat – I would imagine it would need draining and drying out at a high temperature to crisp?

    Either way, you now have loads of lovely lard at least.

    1. Liz says:

      I think you are right, and I considered drying out/crisping the cracklings… maybe next time! I will keep you posted!

  2. Amy says:

    When I had a bounty of lard I got from a farmer for practically nothing — I think it was $2 for half a gallon! — I experimented with all kinds of things I could make with lard. Works fine for cookies — especially ones with spices like gingersnaps and oatmeal cookies.

    I’m sure you’ll have fun with it.

    1. Liz says:

      Ooh! Great idea… I have a molasses/ginger cookie recipe that I love in fall and I just got some awesome fresh, local ginger from my CSA. I will try it with the lard!

  3. Celia says:

    We’ve gotten lard from our CSA share. It’s the first time I ever even considered using [lard], but I like the flavor it adds to some things. I can’t imagine that stench from rendering it yourself though… Glad the lemons worked!

  4. And this, my dear, is going into the “honey, this is why I need a separate commercial kitchen” excuse pile to use on my husband (no more sweltering or stinky house from excessive canning or fat rendering on 90 degree days!).

    1. Liz says:

      Hah! I hadn’t even considered lobbying for a separate kitchen in my home… hmmm…

  5. Donna celeste says:

    Fat back is a wonderful addition to green beans as they are cooking. In KY where my family is from you cook the beans for all day with fat back in the pan and onions. I know this doesn’t sound good to people who like their veggies not cooked all day but it is delicious. e always had the beans as a main course with cornbread pancakes and homemade butter and jelly and sometimes corn on the cob if it was ripe at the same time. I have tried making this with bacon and it just doesn’t taste the same. Depending on the fat back you also have meat. Yum!

    1. Liz says:

      Yum! Donna, if you want any of the back fat (I have a TON in my freezer still) I would be happy to bring some to knitting one of these days! Let me know!

  6. Jillian says:

    Wow! I could smell it as you wrote about it – my mom used to melt fat to prepare suet for the birds. Have fun experimenting!

    1. Liz says:

      I may have to try that as a project w/ the kids (suet), although I am nervous about feeding our chipmunk population in the process!

  7. Christine says:

    Wow, I was giggling out loud reading this. Your lard-making story is hilarious! All in all, though, it sounds successful, if not a wee bit stinky.

    1. Liz says:

      It was a success… and I will be swapping some tonight!!

  8. Kelly K says:

    This is the easiest way I’ve found to render lard:

    I’ve done the stovetop rendering and didn’t think it smelled my house up (but it’s just me, so I had no one to judge me).

    1. Liz says:

      Thanks, Kelly! I considered the stovetop method, but I had SO much lard to process I would have had to do it in several batches. Maybe next time I will try that, though, and compare the smell.

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