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Voluptuous and tasty, this charcuterie specialty has got what it takes to pamper our taste buds or to turn a simple slice of warm bread into a gourmet treat. Today, we are going to deal with his Majesty, Italian lardo, an ingredient that is often discussed yet seldom known. If a definition is what you are after, we could say that lard is pork fat made into a cold cut. In fact, it undergoes the traditional salting and aging process to become, in all respects, a food ready for serving or using in very fine slices.
But what makes lard so special? It all starts from its composition which, apart from the herbs and spices involved in its preparation, is actually pork fatback.
The Chemistry of Lard
This fat is a sum of different triglycerides, that is to say glycerol molecules, each one of which is attached to three different types of fatty acid molecules. This variety of fatty acids makes the triglycerides very different from each other, which accentuates the different renderings of the fat. This is why it is not so strange to be aware of a pronounced difference between one type of fat and another. In the specific case of lard, the most abundant fatty acid is of the oleic type, which represents about 45% of the total. Then there is a fair amount of palmitic acid (25%) and linoleic acid (8%). In minor quantities, we also find myristic acid, stearic acid, and palmitoleic acid.
It goes without saying that such a massive presence of oleic acid confers particular characteristics to lard. For instance, oleic acid melts at around 16° C, and if it is necessary to use higher temperatures for lardo, it is because it also contains other types of triglycerides, such as stearic acid which melts at a higher temperature of 25°C.
Melting points of Lard
The different melting points of the various fatty acids give lardo a particularly interesting quality: that of melting gradually. Indeed, according to its composition, lard melts in the temperature range between 30 and 40 degrees, but even at 20° it will start to soften. Hence this product becomes the star ingredient of warm bruschetta, where it maintains a certain consistency without ever becoming liquid and where it is only partially absorbed by the bread. Besides, we notice the same phenomenon when we place a slice of bacon on a hot frying pan. Before it can become crisp, the fat has to melt in order to fry the lean meat. This fat is exactly the same type as that of lard.
How to Make Lard at Home
Real gourmands are sure to prefer the varieties of lardo which have been subjected to a longer aging process. The good news is that, with a little patience, this process can also be carried out at home. There is no particular recipe that guarantees success, owing to the variable nature of the available fat, so you will have to follow this procedure and adjust it on the grounds of the experience you acquire. First of all, you need some pork fatback, from which the rind has been removed. How much? A slice about 30x30 cm and 4 cm thick. Now mix plenty of coarse cooking salt with chopped garlic and a little water, until it turns into a soft mixture, which you will use to entirely cover the lard. Then, sprinkle it on all sides with an abundant quantity of chopped rosemary, bay leaves, peppercorns, and crushed juniper berries.
How to Taste Lard
Place everything in a suitable bowl, which you will proceed to fill with additional salt to eliminate any empty spaces. Close with a lid and store in a cool, dry place, preferably in the dark. For how long? That depends a lot on how patient you are! No less than three months, but you would do better to go for five or six. When the time is up, remove the brine from your piece of lardo (DO NOT wash it) and hang it with a string from the cellar ceiling or, failing that, in a fresh dark room. Wait at least one more week and your delicious lard will be ready to enjoy. How? In finely cut slices on warm bread, topped with some freshly ground pepper.