Last week marked another first on the wee homestead. And no one is more surprised than I.
For health and environmental reasons, I’ve been a fishetarian for fourteen years. Meat consumption is limited to critters who can breathe underwater, and even then only to those who are low on the food chain.
But as we’ve become more and more tuned in to local food sources, one blaring gap has become obvious — cooking fats.
Olive oil travels thousands of miles to reach our shelves, but with its long-touted benefits, I’m not willing to give it up yet. Luckily, Georgia Olive Farms is working to lower that carbon footprint. We purchase their crack-in-a-bottle when we can, but it’s still too expensive for everyday use. Hopefully prices will come down as their farm grows and supply increases.
So that turns our focus to vegetable oils. Sure, those corn and safflower oils promise lower cholesterol, but scientists are starting to figure out that’s not the case. The omega-3 fatty acids needed for heart health are nowhere to be found. And to make matters worse, veggie oils are often supplemented with BHT and extracted with hexane.
Mmmm…fuel additives make me hungry.
With its high transportation mileage and unsavory processing techniques, vegetable oil was first on my list for a local pinch-hitter.
And that’s where our farmer and friend Jenny comes in.
She and her hubby Chris have started keeping a few pigs, and last week a call went out to all of their CSA subscribers. Anyone who was feeling adventurous could purchase unrendered pork fat for two bucks a pound.
That’s right. Unrendered pork fat. To make lard.
I was in.
I know, I know. Lard is terrible for you, right?
Unprocessed animal lard — not the heebie-geebie-inducing shortening sold at the grocery — is mostly monounsaturated. And what little saturated fat there is has a neutral effect on cholesterol. Plus lard has a higher smoke point than other fats, making it a dream to cook with.
So a ten-pound bag of the stuff came home with us last Saturday.
Now what the hell was I supposed to do with it?
Fortunately, there are a number of blog posts offering advice on how to render lard in a crock pot. Turns out, it’s pretty easy.
Just chop the fat into small pieces and simmer on low.
When it begins to liquefy, ladle the juice into sanitized jars. Repeat process for 8-10 hours.
I discovered you can cook on high heat to speed up the process, but that does make the lard smell just a bit porky. Slow-cooked lard has very little odor, which is important if you plan on using it for baking. Me, I don’t care so much since the lard will mostly be used for biscuits and vegetables.
At the end, you’ll be left with a fair number of cracklins — tiny bits of crispy pork skin. We baked those in the oven for 20 minutes at 375°F and will use them on a pasta dish in place of breadcrumbs, so there won’t be any waste from the rendering process.
Ten pounds of pork fat yielded nine and a half pints of lard, which will be stored in the freezer for the next year to prevent spoilage.
Have to say, I’m already impressed with the results. I used a small spoonful to cook a couple of eggs, and the omelets came out delicately crisp on both sides. Can’t wait to make biscuits with my sisters on Thanksgiving — will report on the results when I surface from the food coma.