When Roberto Copa Matos was growing up in Ranchuelo, a small town in central Cuba, he went with his grandmother on weekends to the bakery where she worked. He remembers peering into big tubs of lard, white as snow. Though the little boy had never seen snow, he knew it would be like that; he had seen photographs.
Later, trained as a biochemist, Copa Matos, now 42, understood that many fats break down or denature at a high heat, but that lard can best take the heat. So he has put it in his kitchen at his popular Old Havana Sandwich Grill in Durham, where a warning on the menu beneath the irresistible, part-lard cookies reads not vegetarian. At the restaurant, he sells quart jars of the pure lard he renders.
I would prefer to eat lard, knowing the source of it, than oil that I dont know the source of, Copa Matos said.
This creamy lard is light years away from the blocks of additive-laden commercial lard found in grocery stores. Copa Matos renders lard from the fat of pigs raised on pasture and acorns at Green Button Farm in Bahama in northern Durham County, and Parker Family Farms, located in Hurdle Mills in northern Orange County.
A few generations ago, everybody cooked with lard from pigs raised the old-fashioned way: foraging for acorns, hickory nuts, wild native persimmons, wild blackberries, wild plums, clover and lespedeza. These swine from venerable old breeds such as Gloucester Old Spots, Berkshires, Tamworths and Large Blacks with large ears like ﬂaps to keep out the mud lived high on the hog, as the saying goes. They rooted for tree roots and made wallows, delightful to pigs, for cooling off in on hot summer days. The sows arranged nests of vegetation for birthing when they were ready to farrow.
When folks went over to hydrogenated fats and synthetic oils, it was a cultural disconnect, said Asher Wright, the manager of Rock House Farm, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Morganton.
Along with an increasing number of small farmers in North Carolina and across the country, Rock House, in Burke County, is raising pigs outdoors instead of in conﬁnement, supplementing pasture and trees with such feed as grain and molasses. Meat from these pigs tastes different. And once again, besides pork, such pigs provide lard that, it now turns out, is rich with health beneﬁts, said Tara Wind, a registered dietitian at Wake Med Raleigh.
A lot of the rise in animal fats is from consumers becoming more educated, said Wind. Farmers markets helped people learn to eat better, she added.
For so long, people bought in the supermarket, and now they know that so much is synthetic and were putting that in our bodies. Supermarket lard is usually hydrogenated, she pointed out, which makes it more like the synthetic hydrogenated fats. Wind favors eating fat from animals that were raised on what theyre supposed to be eating, she said. The fat in an animal is from an animals diet, and, she said, fat from pigs allowed to forage is higher in omega-3. A grain-fed or feedlot animal, Wind said, is not as nutritious, because they are not eating their natural diet.
Wind advocates balance. You also need olive oil and coconut oil, she said. Dont swap out other fats for lard 100 per cent. (Olive oil does break down at a lower temperature, so it is best for dressing salads or as a grace note to a cooked dish.) Lard is about 45 per cent monounsaturated fat the more healthful kind and butter is only about 23 per cent, she said.
For decades, the trend was toward pigs so lean they gave little lard to render. Shelf-stable, hydrogenated shortenings, which we now know are saturated fats, took lards place in pie crusts and biscuits and in the handed-down cast-iron skillets where chicken and ﬁsh were fried. For decades, health-conscious cooks shunned lard. Now, its back.
Lard is very high in monounsaturated fat, points out Shirley Corriher, the Atlanta cooking teacher who used to troubleshoot for Julia Child as well as big food companies. It has been given a bum rap.
Corriher, who was a research biochemist for Vanderbilt Medical School, is the author of the books Cookwise and Bakewise, as well as works in scientiﬁc journals. In Georgia, Corrihers grandmother fried chicken in lard, and one version of her beloved, moist Touch of Grace biscuits calls for smearing a touch of lard or bacon grease atop each biscuit.
The Paleo or primal diet that has steadily gained adherents in recent years has been a factor in the lard comeback. Abby Mulchi, a veterinarian in George Hildebrand, near Morganton, uses lard in curries and to saute the meat they use in that diet. We dont use store-bought lard, Mulchi said. We know Rock House lard is high in omega-3 fatty acids, considered beneﬁcial for keeping cholesterol low.
Almost every night, Mulchi makes a bacon-fat vinaigrette for salad, and, she said, We cook our eggs in bacon fat or lard, and well do fatback, too. My husband puts any excess lard over his eggs in the morning and it helps sustain him and give him really good energy. Wind, the dietitian, cautioned that if you are using bacon that isnt from grass-fed animals, unlike Mulchis bacon, saving the grease is not a great idea.
Lard is more monounsaturated than saturated, said Linda Joyce Forristal, a professor in the tourism and hospitality department at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who started Lard Lovers, a band nearly 500 strong of those who celebrate lard, about ﬁve years ago. Forristal says that besides its being a polyunsaturated fat, lard boosts the proﬁt margin of the farmer by making use of something that might otherwise be thrown away.
Janice McCarthy, who buys lard through Green Button Farms community-supported agriculture share program, said that she has switched to lard, especially for frying, because it has a much higher smoke point, because many toxins are fat-soluble, and grocery store lard generally contains trans fats. She buys fatback (see box on different names for pork fat) and renders it herself.
Some lard fans say that their beloved fat has a somewhat porcine taste that is too strong, so another Paleo Diet adherent, Susan McCann of Morganton, mixes it with coconut oil.
On a recent evening, she sauteed asparagus in that combo. A few hundred years ago, McCann, 52, said, people ate a better ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. We evolved with a ratio of twice as much 6 as 3, so now it is out of balance. Still, McCann said, it is hard for people to get past the idea that lard wont kill them.
You have to educate people about lard, agreed Renee Parker of Parker Family Farms. who sells at the Cary Farmers Market and cooks with lard for her own family. Alicia Butler, whose familys Green Button Farm sells at the South Durham Farmers Market, also uses lard in her own cooking. Zarela Martinez, who presided over the Mexican restaurant Zarela in Manhattan for 23 years and authored several cookbooks, wrote on her blog that lard has oleic acid which helps break down cholesterol the same as olive oil. The trick is that it has to be home-rendered.
Carter is a former food writer and columnist at Newsday on Long Island, N.Y. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Mother Linda’s Lard Pie Crust
This is slightly adapted from a recipe by “Mother Linda,” who is Linda Joyce Forristal, founder of Lard Lovers, which helps lard lovers locate lard from pastured pigs in their area. The amount of water will depend on the ﬂour you use; do not worry, but do add the water a little at a time after the ﬁrst 1/2 cup. For more information, visit lardlovers.ning.com.
2 1/2 cups unbleached white or whole wheat pastry ﬂour, or a combination
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup lard, organic or from pastured pigs
1/2 to 3/4 cup cold water, still or sparkling
MEASURE ﬂour into a medium-sized bowl, add salt and stir. Add lard and use a pastry cutter, a fork or clean ﬁngertips to cut the lard into pea-sized pieces, until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. You can conﬁdently add the ﬁrst 1/2 cup of water, but continue adding the remaining 1/4 cup of water 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together. Lightly knead with your hands to make a ball and then divide into 2 equal parts. Do not overwork the dough.
RESHAPE each part into a ball and then ﬂatten into a disk. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling out and continuing with your pie recipe.
Yield: two 10-inch pie crusts.
Roberto Copa Matos’ Mantecaditos
The ﬁrst part of the word matecaditos is Spanish for lard, and the ending indicates that these irresistible little cookies are small. “I knew what mantecaditos made by my grandmother tasted like,” Capo Matos said, and he changed a recipe until the taste memory became just right.
1 1/2 cups pure lard (not commercial)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
6 cups unbleached organic all-purpose ﬂour
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 (14-ounce) tin guava paste (you will have some left over for the next batch or another use)
PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees for a convection oven). In a medium saucepan, melt lard and butter, taking care not to brown or burn it. Remove from heat and let cool for 2 or 3 minutes. Add vanilla.
PLACE butter and sugar in bowl and whisk together. Add shortening and vanilla mixture and stir until mixture comes together, working with clean hands at the last, if need be. Form into small balls, about 1.5 ounces each; place on ungreased cookie sheet, and use the heel of your hand to press dough down lightly. (The dough may also be formed into 4 equal cylinders, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and refrigerated until you are ready to continue, then cut in top 3/4-inch to 1-inch slides.)
CUT guava paste into small cubes. Make a small depression, about the size of a pencil eraser, in the center of each cookie (Roberto uses the end of a knife-sharpening steel to do this.) Fill each with a dot of guava paste.
BAKE 10 to 15 minutes in a convection oven, or about 18 to 20 minutes in a conventional oven, until cookies are set and are a light brown color. Remove from oven; at ﬁrst, the cookies will be fragile, so do not remove to a cooling rack or space for 5 minutes.
Yield: about 70 cookies.
Feather Spice Lard Cake
There are several Feather Spice Cake recipes on the Internet, but they do not contain lard. This has been in my recipe ﬁle box for so long that I am not sure where I got it.
2 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/3 cup lard
2 1/4 cups sifted cake ﬂour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or mace
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, divided
BEAT egg whites until frothy. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup of the sugar. Keep beating until very stiff and glossy.
STIR lard in another bowl to soften it; cream in 1 cup sugar. Sift together ﬂour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg or mace and cloves. Add dry ingredients with 3/4 cup of the buttermilk. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute, scraping bottom and sides of bowl.
ADD remaining buttermilk and the egg yolks. Beat 1 minute, scraping.
GENTLY fold in whites mixture.
SCRAPE into 2 greased and ﬂoured 8-inch-round pans or a 13x9x2-inch pan. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Cool. Fill and frost with seafoam frosting (Seven-Minute Frosting made with brown sugar) or caramel frosting.
Yield: 1 cake