Bacon butter (AKA lard), the comeback kid

Rendering Lard - Rendered Lard, Cooled & Chilled

Rendered lard, cooled & chilled. Photo by I Believe I Can Fry (Julia Frost) via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Lard has been making a comeback in recent years, so I learned today at the gym while listening to an episode of the public radio program The Splendid Table. (Yes, I was working out while enjoying a conversation about lard!) The episode’s first guest was Charleston chef Sean Brock, who is described as “part of the lardcore movement, respecting southern tradition and using all parts of a pig.” (Surely no one says or types lardcore with a straight face, right?) Like many nose-to-tail chefs, Brock seeks to use all parts of the heritage breed pigs that he serves in his restaurant, including the rendered fat. He has a nice conversation with host Lynne Rossetto Kasper; find it here.

For more on the reemergence of lard, consider this excerpt of Regina Schrambling’s article at Slate,

I’m convinced that the redemption of lard is finally at hand because we live in a world where trendiness is next to godliness. And lard hits all the right notes, especially if you euphemize it as rendered pork fat—bacon butter.

Lard has clearly won the health debate. Shortening, the synthetic substitute foisted on this country over the last century, has proven to be a much bigger health hazard because it contains trans fats, the bugaboo du jour. Corporate food scientists figured out long ago that you can fool most of the people most of the time, and shortening (and its butter-aping cousin, margarine) had a pretty good ride after Crisco was introduced in 1911 as a substitute for the poor man’s fat. But shortening really vanquished lard in the 1950s when researchers first connected animal fat in the diet to coronary heart disease. By the ’90s, Americans had been indoctrinated to mainline olive oil, but shortening was still the go-to solid fat over lard or even butter in far too many cookbooks.

Her full piece is a nice read, so check it out here. Then, for more on the roles Upton Sinclair, William Procter and James Gamble played a century ago in removing lard from the American diet, check out this piece from Robert Smith of NPR’s Planet Money team.

Finally, check out this essay from Pete Wells at Food & Wine. As he expounds in the opening,

When I turn to the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, I more or less know what I’ll find…. The last thing I expect to see is an engraved invitation to eat french fries and fried chicken, yet that is roughly what I got one day last summer.

Extending this astonishing offer was the food writer Corby Kummer. [Read Kummer’s 2005 NYT op-ed here.] In response to the news that New York City’s health commissioner had asked local restaurants to stop using cooking oils containing trans fats, comparing them to such hazards as lead and asbestos, Kummer proposed that we bring back lard, “the great misunderstood fat.” Lard, he cheerfully reported, contains just 40 percent saturated fat (compared with nearly 60 percent for butter). Its level of monounsaturated fat (the “good” fat) is “a very respectable 45 percent,” he noted, “double butter’s paltry 23 or so percent.” Kummer hinted that if I wanted to appreciate the virtues of this health food, I needed to fry shoestring potatoes or a chicken drumstick.

What did I know about lard? Bupkes.

Wells then reports how he sought out, rendered, and cooked away with lard eventually secured from a heritage breed. (As he notes, “The one-pound brick of lard in my corner bodega was hydrogenated … along with nearly all the commercial lard available in this country…. Unfortunately, hydrogenation is also the source of unwholesome trans fats, which shoot extra LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) into your arteries while batting away the other, good cholesterol.”) You can find his full piece here.

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