Photo by Seth Teter.

Praise The Lard!

I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, but I just scraped the bottom of a five-gallon bucket of lard that has been in my possession for three short weeks. We brought home this bounty a couple weeks ago from a fall harvest of home-raised pigs. I’ve been on a bit of a bender. I’m sure the shame will settle in any moment now.

I think if you dig through abandoned regions of our pantry you might find a dusty, half-empty bottle of olive oil, but our family worships firmly in the sect of Pig Fat now. No coconut oils, no vegetable oils. Our conversion started practical: I could no longer justify bringing more fats and oils into the house, given my line of work as a hog farmer.

The porky burden and my googling out of desperation, however, ultimately opened my eyes to the Glory, and now I spend my days trying to spread the Good Lard Gospel to everyone I meet: Eat lard, cook with lard, bake with lard, make soaps and candles with lard, rub lard on your hands and face. Have you tried my new lard lip balm?

The reaction has been mixed.

Don’t call it a comeback.

Pig fat has been utilized since feral swine started following bands of hunter-gatherer homosapiens. In other words, it’s not exactly new in any region of the globe. At its peak in America, lard oiled our machines; preserved the food that fed laborers, miners, peasants, in days before refrigeration; and fueled our lamps and waterproofed our boots. It was, in some cases, more valuable than the meat itself. It was sold by the barrel. We called our pantries, “larders,” for goodness sake.

Who butchered lard?

Somewhere along the line, lard got the stink eye. It became synonymous with cardiac arrest and gluttony. Lard Ass was suddenly a derogatory term used at a barf-o-rama. This might be another thing we can blame on the baby boomers (like carpeting over hardwood floors) for perpetuating myths about lard, though the first blow was struck much earlier. By most accounts, lard fell out of favor around the same time that Procter & Gamble was sitting on way too much cottonseed oil. Folks stopped buying their cottonseed oil candles after we all got electricity. (Yeah, this is an old grudge.) So they created a lab-based evil lard imposter that benefited from a marketing strategy advanced beyond its time.

Crisco, they called it, was “pure and wholesome, digestible and clean!” It was made from vegetables, which are beyond reproach, and at the time, before we knew anything about the trans fats that the hydrogenation process created, it was believed to be healthy alternative. The slow poisoning of public opinion began. Lard was gross. Animal fat was suspect. In fact, all saturated fat was on the naughty list. Then, in the early 80s, “The Other White Meat” campaign from hog farmers themselves, took fat shaming to self-hating levels. Producers began breeding all the lovely fat and flavor out of the humble American pig in a failed attempt to compete with leaner, paler chicken meat. Pig meat should not be anything like chicken meat. For the record, I stand firm in my convictions: chickens do the best job at chicken meat.

How does lard “happen” now?

Lucky for me, from the rubble rises a few old school heritage breeds of hog that never benefited from this leaner pork production. They missed the “skinny” memo, and swag around the forest present day with a thick layer of fat on their bodies, as the Lard God intended. Also lucky for me, this creamy, flavorful fat is on the upswing as those in the culinary world, celebrity chefs and consumers alike start to preach its virtues, though with way too many disclaimers if you ask me.
For those curious about the complicated process of lard, I’ll tell you: pigs, good pigs, anyway, are fat. If you take the fat of this beast and dice it, you can heat it up in a stock pot until it melts and then strain the liquid into a tub. Did you want it to be more mysterious? Sorry, that’s it. No chemical solvent baths, centrifuges or bleaching. No “interesterification,” or inert gas blankets. If that’s the kind of freaky stuff you’re into, ye must seek alternative fats. Personally, I’m a simple girl who likes a simple process. What can I say?

But will I die, though?

According to a BBC report in January, researchers ranked the Top 100 foods that provide the best balance of a person’s daily nutritional requirements. Pork fat is sandwiched between swiss chard and beet greens at No. 8 for its high levels of minerals and B vitamins. Mic drop. It has less saturated fat than butter or coconut oil. It has zero trans fats, and its oleic acid game is strong. All things in moderation, yes, but the point is that lard did nothing to deserve its modern villain status. As the leader among my peers for total lifetime lard consumption, my cholesterol is “athlete” status. I often wonder: what if I live forever?

Fine, I’m listening. How does lard earn my trust?

Everybody has got to start with the basics. Flaky pie crusts are impossible without lard. Biscuits? Same. Tortillas. Tamales. Refried beans. Dip your toe in the water of offering lard-based solutions to every problem. Fair warning: the slope becomes slippery.
Did you know that you can season a bit of lard with salt, pepper, rosemary and red wine vinegar? Whip it up into something called Pork Butter and spread it on crusty bread? Did you know that you can slowly cook entire shoulder roasts submerged in lard, and let them cure in their own fat? (Google pork confit.) Did you know you can render lard in a smoker and cook potatoes in the smoky oil? Bro, do you even lard?

Do I have to rub it on my face?

Listen. There is a two-year waiting list for baby foreskin facials, and y’all gonna get weird about a little bacon grease? I’ve only recently gone whole hog on lard-as-cosmetics, and I can tell you that the lip balm made with lard-based beeswax and honey has cured my farmer-cracked-winter-face problems. We’ve made cupboards full of pure lard soaps and shampoo bars, and we’re burning lard candles and slathering lard skin repair cream. I have no regrets. In fact, I’m googling lard-based pomades and beard balms as we speak. The Lard’s been good to me. Why stop now?

But how will I get through this, I’m so scared?

Are you frying eggs? Put down that spray bottle of butter-flavored WTF-ever pan greaser and scoop a chunk of lard from the tub like a boss. Are you making brownies for your kid’s classroom? Throw that canola oil out the window and straight to hell. Obviously, if you’re heating anything in a pan, meat, potatoes, vegetables, I don’t have to tell you what to do. It’s a cooking oil, guys. You can handle this. Get out there and empty those tubs.

Story by Lyndsey Teter.