Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Just six easy steps!

Okay, now that you are all jazzed and jived about using lard, let me show you how you can make it at home. At least, I'll show you how I make it in my home.

Step One: Find some pig fat. The easiest way to do this is head for a butcher shop. Unless your grocery store butchers its own animals, they're not likely to carry the stuff in the store. Not a lot of demand for it, you know.

Find a butcher shop, walk inside, and ask for pork fat. Between five and ten pounds. The butcher might look at you strange and say 'Do you mean lard?' If so, nod your head and smile. Some butchers don't differentiate between rendered and unrendered lard.

If you're having your own hog butchered, ask them to separate the fat that's next to the kidneys and loin from the rest of the body fat. Kidney and loin fat is the most pure, and has less of an odor. Lard rendered from this fat is called 'leaf lard.'

The picture above shows the meat we got from the hog we had butchered last fall. All of the fat is stored in the two bags on the top shelf.

Ask the butcher to grind it up for you. This makes it a whole lot easier to melt. If they can't grind it up, expect to spend about an hour cutting it into little chunks at home.

Step two: Put the fat into a big pot. Turn the burner onto medium high heat. Add a few inches of water and put on the lid. Once it starts to boil turn the heat down to medium.

Some folks don't add water. That's fine. If you don't add water, I suspect you have to melt the fat over a low heat to prevent scorching. I add water because I want to use a higher heat to melt it more quickly. I also think that using water yields a better quality lard. But that's just my own theory, untested and unproven.

Step Three: Melt the fat. Now, in the picture above you can see some submerged, unmelted masses of stuff. This 'stuff' is extra bits of tissue and meat that got mixed in when the butcher was grinding up the lard. Obviously, this stuff won't melt. That's okay. It will strain out later. Some folks keep this stuff and fry it up to make 'cracklings.' I've never done this before. Anyone have any experience with this?

Warning: At this point you will begin to smell the melting fat. To an unaccustomed nose, the smell may be unpleasant. But it doesn't bother me in the slightest. That's because I'm used to it. Personally I find the smell of margarine to be mildly nauseating, but that's probably because I haven't used it in nearly ten years. Yeah, I'm an odd duck.

The time required for melting depends on the heat level used to melt the fat. If you're using low heat, it can take the better part of a day. If your using medium heat, it could take just a few hours. It's hard to tell when all the fat is melted -- use your best guess. When the unmelted bits look more like cooked pork rather than unmelted fat, you're likely done.

Step Four: Strain the melted fat. To do this, line a large colander with several layers of damp cheesecloth. Put the colander over a large bowl. Ladle or pour off the melted fat into the colander. The non-melted bits will be caught in the colander, and the melted lard will pour through.

Step Five: Pour the melted fat into a container.

If you didn't add water during melting: Pour the lard into one or more storage containers. I recommend using several smaller containers, rather than one big one. Recycled pint-sized sour cream or yogurt containers work well for this. Put them in the fridge to cool.

If you added water during melting: Pour the lard into a large plastic bowl (like an ice cream pail), and put it into the fridge to cool overnight. The next day the lard will have separated from the water. The lard will be on top, with the water underneath. Take the ice cream pail and dump it all out into a clean sink. It may take some thumping to get the lard out of the pail. Try running a butter knife around the edge. When it's out, wash away the water and scrape off any aspic. Cut the lard into smaller pieces and put them into one or more storage containers.

Step Six: Store the lard. Keep one container in the fridge for immediate use, and put the rest in the freezer. Lard will last longer if it's kept frozen.

Note on Aspic: After the lard cools there may be a thin layer of aspic at the bottom of the container, beneath the lard. It's harmless -- just scrape it away.

The picture above shows about half of the lard I produced from the large pot of fat I started melting above. Which is about half of the fat I got from the hog. In other words, the dinner plate of lard above represents about 1/4 of the lard produced from one hog. Obviously, this will vary depending upon the size and breed of the animal.

Depending on the quality of fat you've used, the lard will vary between yellowish white to nearly white in color. Leaf lard will have very little scent, while regular lard will have a distinct (but not overwhelming) scent.

Use only leaf lard in pastry. When I first started using lard I made the mistake of using regular lard in a peach cobbler crust. There was definitely some added flavor there. Not horrible, but not great either. Regular lard is perfect for frying -- potatoes, eggs, meats, etc. But leaf lard is preferable in pastries.

I sound like an expert here, but I'm not. This is just the way I do it -- I'm sure there are dozens of different ways to render lard. Feel free to chip in with your own techniques or tricks. I'm always hoping to learn something new.


Maple Lawn Farm said...

Another great post! Thank you!

Erin said...

Great tutorial, Jo! I had no idea that the fat quality is different depending on the part of the animal... good to know! The white stuff is beautiful, if lard can be beautiful, lol! As far as the cracklin's are concerned, the only thing I know is that Laura Ingalls and family sure enjoyed them! I may have hubby do this one day, I do all the canning and preserving, but he prefers to do things like brewing beer, trying to make soap, etc and I think the process of rendering lard would appeal to his manly-domestic-homesteader side :)

Regina @VestPocketFamilyFarm said...

I render any animal fat using this method and water. My use is soap. It works so well and I don't run the risk of burning it like I do with the rendering without water.

Cooky said...

I made lard in the oven once, which left me a bunch of perfectly fried cracklings. They are AMAZING. You know how the fatty part of the bacon tastes when it's nice and crisp? That's what cracklings taste like. I highly recommend them, especially if you're gonna make homemade lard anyway.

Thanks for the tutorial! I will have hogs one day....oh yes, I will have hogs.

jenny said...

This makes me look forward to when we have our own hog one day. That lard looks great!! I wonder if the local butcher down the road has any and if he'll sell me some... hmmm.

Jo said...

Hello Tammy! Thanks for the nice words.

Hi Erin -- Yeah, I didn't know either until recently. Next time we butcher a hog I will give the butcher explicit instructions!

Hello Regina -- I use lard in soap too, and tallow. Makes a lovely white bar. Been awhile since I made any though ... another thing on my extensive 'to do' list.

Hi Joelle -- do you eat the cracklings plain? Or mix them with something? Next time maybe I'll try the oven method. Does it give the lard any different flavor?

Hey Jenny -- Thanks. We don't actually have hogs, we have farmer friends who raise hogs and we 'order' one from them. Organic, open air, and all that good stuff. Hubby won't let me raise a hog. Not yet, anyway ...