Six weeks have passed since I have buried a slab of fatback lard in sea salt and herbs and left it in my refrigerator to cure. Why six weeks when I originally mentioned three or four? Well, you know how life goes – at first I was impatient and checked on it quite soon, and then I was more impatient, but then I got busy, and the three-four weeks became six, and because I knew I didn’t have to worry about over-curing the fat (since Lardo is cured for months without any harm), I didn’t worry about it.
And then I have worked through my whirlwind-but-fun schedule and went back to the fridge to see how things have progressed. I dug the slab of lard out, cut off the tough skin (next time I will cut it off before curing, but it did the lard no harm to cure with it on), and brushed off the excess salt.
Placed on a cutting board and attacked with a sharp knife, the result has not only justified the (frankly minimal) effort and wait, but exceeded all expectations. The fat has remained a beautifully creamy white color, without discoloration at all, and hardened to a great easily-sliced consistency due to water drawn out into the salt (which had darkened but still had no liquid collecting in the bottom of the dish). And the taste… well, let me put it this way, I’ve paid 60€/kg for a few slices of imported Italian Lardo and I don’t think this was actually any worse, and perhaps even better: clean, well-seasoned but not overly so, with the distinct notes of thyme and lavender coming through on top of the rich flavor of the fat itself. No off flavors of any sort, at least none that my rather sensitive nose could detect (nor did I expect any).
Bingo. I am not sure I’ll want to buy Lardo/Salo ever again. Granted, six weeks is a fairly long time to wait for something to be ‘ready’, but so long as you have the fridge space, and can get your hands on good-quality fatback in thick pieces, why not?
So what to do if you want some of this for yourself? It’s really very easy and simple.
- Take a piece of fatback (preferably 3+cm thick), and trim off the skin.
- Mix enough* coarse sea salt with whatever seasoning floats your lard. In my case it was a few tablespoons of Herbes de Provence and about a teaspoon of culinary lavender. (*enough to put a 1-2cm thick layer below the slab of fatback in your nonreactive container, and then to cover it completely).
- Place the fatback onto the seasoned salt and pour the remainder of salt over it, ensuring that all parts of it are covered. Close your nonreactive container** – plastic tupperware box will probably be fine – and place it in the back of the refrigerator. (**I used a glazed ceramic bowl covered with a plate this time, but I suspect I will use tupperware next time for convenience.)
- Leave the container alone for 6 weeks. You may check on it occasionally, pour off any liquid if it appears on the bottom, and make sure the piece is still completely covered in salt.
- At the end of 6 weeks, take the fat out, brush off excess salt and enjoy on rye bread, as part of charcuterie board, with asparagus, or whichever way you wish to consume your awesome Lardo/Salo.
And that is it, folks. I prounounce this experiment an unqualified success!
7 thoughts on “Cured Pork Fat Experiment Six Weeks Later: Success!”
Fascinating. As I live in northern New York, and have no access to “fresh, gloriously creamy and pink-and-white fat from a grain-fed Finnish pig” (lots of dairy cows here, though), I wonder if off-the-shelf, American supermarket fatback would be of high enough quality to justify the time spent?
An article in the Wall Street Journal (March 5, 2009) is dubious: “Diners haven’t been exposed to quality fat in recent years because pigs raised on a bad diet or living in high-stress environments will have yellowish fat that smells putrid. That’s a result of the toxins in an animal being deposited in the fat. Corporate pigs are also bred and even genetically modified to be lean.”
So, do you think one of these “corporate pigs” (love the term!) would suffice for this project? How can I discern a good piece of “corporate” fatback in my market’s meat-case? Anything I should look for? I guess the whiter, the better? Thanks!
I am torn on the subject of American livestock, because I used to live in the States and worked in the food industry – and the thing that I can tell with most assurance about its quality, is that it varies greatly. What I mean is that America has both, utterly awesome farms that raise great meat, and horrible industrial ones that scare me. And anything in-between.
I am not sure I like any article that uses the word ‘toxins’ (rant for another time), but the fat that is at all yellow or smells putrid is a no, no, no, so much nope it’s not even funny. The part about intensively-bred pigs being genetically modified is strange too – I don’t think that’s widespread even in the States yet. However, intensively-farmed pigs have, over the decades of low-fat fad, been selectively bread to be lean. Which resulted in really thin, miserable fatback (about 1/2 inch or 1-2 cm thick). It tends to look like this:
Which is not only sad, but also not a good thickness for curing. What you want to do in order to secure good fatback (unless the local supermarket has something which looks great off the bat), is to see if there are any organic higher-end meat suppliers or butchers in the area and then ask them about thick (the thicker the better) fatback. Not many people want to buy the lard, so it shouldn’t, theoretically, be very expensive – but it might be pricier at fancy places, obviously. The fat you want is something that looks as close as possible to the picture in this post (you can click the photo there for larger resolution):
The whiter the better is also a good guideline, but don’t shy from a slight pink tint – yellow or beige or brownish is what you want to avoid. And it should just smell of pork, nothing off. It’s quite all right if it’s been or is frozen – fat is even less impacted by freezing than meat, and it’s probably fresher if it’s been kept frozen.
Good luck looking for it, and do let me know how it goes!
Veronika, thanks for the thoughtful reply. There are some decent butchers in my city where I may be able to acquire the “good stuff.” I’ve been making my own gravlax for a few years now, but it never would have occurred to me to salt-cure a big hunk o’ pig fat. I’d never even heard of lardo before now, though I’m a lifelong fan of the cured meats, particularly the Italians. I need to get out more. And locate some fat!
Haha, yes to both – getting out and locating fat!
I knew about the tradition of salt-curing fat from very early childhood and my Estonian grandfather who used to raise a pig and cure the fat himself (at least I think he did, I was rather little!), but later I re-encountered the tradition in good Italian salumerias, where it was all ‘grown up’ and fancy and expensive-as-hell. For a good reason – it’s heavenly, and if you love Italian cured meats, this is like those only, well, fat! :)
Since it’s now scientifically demonstrated that saturated fat (in particular pig fat) doesn’t actually cause heart disease or any such silly thing (it’s still high in calories, obviously!), one can happily chow down on this without too much guilt, too. And because you are only curing the fat, not the meat (except some teeny specks on the edge which get salted through), there is no need for curing salts, either – salt mostly just draws the water out and not that much of it actually filters into the fat so it won’t taste outrageously salty or anything like that. Although if you want to, there is no reason not to use a little bit of curing salts – I know some Lardo manufacturers use them, others do not, and the Slavs (apology for grouping all fat-eating Slavic cultures that way, no offense intended!) that tend to cure it tend to agree those aren’t necessary.
I spent this summer lacto-fermenting green tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers from the garden, and now that the only thing left is a few desultory stalks of Swiss chard and a 6′ vine of cherry tomatoes that refuses to give up the ghost, I’ll have to focus my efforts this cold and snowy winter on the decadent side of food chemistry. Or is it alchemy? Lardo seems a bit like alchemy, but instead of turning lead into gold, you’re turning fat into…well, pig gold!
Pig Platinum! :) And yes, it’s a totally worthwhile undertaking. Once you’ve located the pig, other than what I wrote above, all I can say is – don’t be stingy with seasoning. And if you love heat, chili flakes or powder would go awesomely well with this, too. Russians and Ukrainians frequently raw garlic slices to the salt mix as well.
And I envy you the garden (in the nicest possible way). We currently live in a rather nice and large apartment near the city centre here, but I hope that after the next move we may buy a small house instead (this is pricier here in Europe than in the States). I love gardening and would dig in the dirt for hours daily if I could!
Ha! Way better. Alliteration always wins.
Thanks for the the tips on the chili and garlic. It just so happens that I toasted, mortared & pestled the dried remains of my meager but potent Bhut Jolokia harvest today. Perhaps a tiny pinch or two…I’m still trying to figure out what to do with this apocalyptic Indian pod, though I did vinegar-pickle a small jar, just for kicks. I’ll dice one and add it with a tablespoon of its capsaicin-infused brine to a jar of common commercial pickles for a taste sensation. But we digress. It’s all about the fat. MUST FOCUS ON THE FAT.