Betty Says: Embrace the Lard

16 ounces of highest quality lard.

Looks like someone has been looking in my fridge.

Dear Betty,

What’s this I hear about you using lard in your baking? Seriously? Lard? What the hell are you thinking?

– Baffled in Boise

Ok, I’ll admit it: I went out of my way to drive to a farmer’s market on a rainy Saturday morning to score leaf lard. And I don’t regret it.

Look, no one finds this weirder than I do. Lord knows that my mother never cooked with lard. I spent my formative years in the 1980s believing that margarine was a “healthy” choice over butter, and lard was a tool of the devil. Combine that with my generalized ambivalence about meat-related products in general, and lard was never on my radar.

Then I read In Defense of Food and took to heart his assertion that you should eat what your great-grandmother would have eaten. Betty grew up on a farm during the Depression; I’m pretty certain that her mother wasn’t cooking with margarine. Butter and lard would have been the fats of choice.

But it wasn’t until I attempted to make homemade Cuban bread and couldn’t find any lard (even those nasty homogenized bricks) in any of my local supermarkets that I set out on a quest to find lard. Strangely, you can’t just call up any old butcher and get it, although perhaps that’s more of a statement on the lack of freestanding, non-supermarket butchers in California than it is an indictment of nationwide lard availability. My friend Jim of Muddy Dog Coffee advised me that the kind of lard I want is called leaf lard. Leaf lard is the highest quality of lard with the least amount of porky flavor, making it an ideal neutral fat for your favorite baked goods, like Cuban bread or buttermilk biscuits.

I scored my 16-ounce tub of leaf lard from Prather Ranch Meat Co., best known for their location in the Ferry Building in San Francisco, but also a staple at a local farmer’s market. And much to my surprise I found myself giddy about the baking possibilities. After a few test runs with some recipes (coming soon), I’m really pleased with the results. And it sure beats Crisco.

I wouldn’t go as far as calling lard “the new health food;” I still believe that too much of any fat is too much. But I can’t argue with the results.

Have you ever baked with lard? If not, is it something you’d consider? Why or why not?

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4 Responses

  1. Anne says:

    We, too, bought a container of lard from a local producer. Fortunately, the stuff seems to last forever in the fridge, because we’ve had it for at least a year. We’ve been making quiches lately, and Tony insists on a homemade crust (whereas I would just buy a frozen one). He uses one part lard to three parts butter, as instructed by Mark Bittman I believe. Ours isn’t labeled “leaf lard” but it doesn’t seem to have any flavor. One question about your upbringing: did your mother refer to margarine as “butter” like mine did?

  2. Susan says:

    I cook with bacon grease! Unbelievable, for me. The book I read was Why We Get Fat. Great read. Made me change my diet completely. It isn’t the fat that makes us fat.

  3. Alisa says:

    Anne, I’d forgotten that, but you’re absolutely right: it was always “put the butter on the table.” And as for the longevity of the lard, the guys at the market told me that it’s good for about a year with proper refrigeration.

  4. Alisa says:

    Susan, isn’t it amazing how our perspectives change? But really, you can’t beat bacon grease for flavor. When I make my red beans and rice I fry the bacon first, then cook the onions, peppers and garlic in the grease. The flavor is phenomenal.

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