Lard and tallow have gotten a bad reputation over the past few decades as being sources of very unhealthy fats. While it is true that consuming animal fats in excess can lead to health problems, taking it in moderation can actually be good for us. They provide us with more vitamin D than cod liver oil, and they also contain a complete set of fats that our bodies need in order to function properly.
Lard Better for Cooking?
While both lard and tallow can be useful on the homestead or during a period of prolonged self-sufficiency, lard may be a better option in the kitchen for a couple of reasons. First, it contains low levels of certain saturated fats which make it more shelf-stable and less-prone to rancidity. It is also less-sensitive to heat than tallow, which means it’s easier to cook with. Finally, a lot of people tend to prefer the taste and texture of lard over tallow. Lard is also cheaper and arguably easier to obtain than beef fat.
Rendering lard can also be easier than making tallow as the fats are more-forgiving, and you don’t need to regulate heat as much throughout the process. Some people also prefer the bacon-like taste of the cracklings, or the fleshy remnants that can be crisped up and used in a variety of recipes, over beef as well. Sadly, the process of rendering lard or tallow is equally-unappealing, and it’s easier to tolerate if you have a strong stomach as well as some good ventilation.
The Basic Process
The first step is to source your fat. The best parts of the pig to scavenge are the back, belly and the lard around the kidneys. Once you’ve obtained and trimmed the slabs of fat, the next step is to chop them into smaller pieces. You can continue to chop the pieces until they’re minced, or you can put them into a food processor for faster results.
While you’re chopping the fat, add a little water to a crock pot or large saucepan and bring up the heat. This will prevent the fat from scorching before it has the chance to start melting down. Add in the fat once minced, and turn the heat to its lowest setting. Stir occasionally, and expect the process to take at least an hour before all of the fat is melted. As it melts, you will notice that bits of flesh separate from the fat. This is perfectly normal, and you will strain these out in the next step.
Line a colander with some cheesecloth or similar material, and place atop a large bowl. Carefully pour the melted fat through the colander, and scrape out the fleshy bits. Let the lard drain into the bowl, and give the solids in the colander a gentle press to extract any remaining liquid. All you need to do is store the fat in a mason jar, screw on the lid, and let it cool to room temperature. Pressure will build up inside of the jar as the lard cools, and this will create a moderate seal that can help to extend the shelf life of the finished product. Try to use the lard within a couple of weeks if kept in a cool dry place, but you can extend the shelf life by a couple of months if it’s kept in the refrigerator.
While few of us plan on using lard during a period of prolonged self-sufficiency, this is a good technique to know, just in case. Try it for yourself in order to get a feel for the process, and remember that a little bit of animal fat doesn’t do a lot of harm if consumed in small doses.