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It takes a lot of resources to produce animal products, so when we use them, let’s make sure to make the most of them. And that starts by throwing away as little as possible. One way to do so when preparing (large) cuts of pork, is by keeping the fat trimmings and converting them into lard.
All you need to make your own lard are these fatty trimmings from pork. It’s surprisingly simple to make on both a small and medium scale.
What is lard made of?
Lard is pork fat that’s been ‘set free’ of the pork’s tissue and cells. Pure lard consists of almost 100% fat. This fat is composed of a mixture of molecules called triglycerides. These are molecules with all a very similar build: a backbone called glycerol attached to three ‘branches’ of fatty acids.
Olive oil, ghee, tallow, canola oil, they are all also made up of triglycerides. The only difference between these fats and oils is the type of triglycerides they are made of.
The fatty acids of lard
Triglycerides can differ in the types of fatty acids they contain. Lard contains a lot of palmitic, stearic and myristic acid, which are saturated fatty acids. Oleic, palmitoleic and linoleic acid also make up a large portion, these are unsaturated fatty acids.
How to make lard
To make lard, you need pork fat. You can buy pork fat as such at specialized stores. Certain parts of a pig contain large reserves of fat, such as the belly or around the kidneys. However, you don’t need dedicated fat to make lard. You can make lard from just about any left-over fat trimmings from a piece of pork.
When preparing a large piece of meat such as a shoulder, or neck, you will often have to cut away excess fat. These fat ‘trimmings’ are also a great starting point for making lard. It’s best to reduce the amount of any meat tissue since this won’t break down when making lard and only increases the risk of it not turning out great.
Whereas the raw fat on pork meat can be hard, and quite inedible. The fat is still trapped within tissue and fat cells. Lard on the other hand is soft and spreadable. It behaves more like butter and ghee, than meat, thanks to a crucial step called ‘rendering’ in which the fat has been set free.
During rendering you slowly cook the fat to break down the tissues.
Heating the fat will cause the fat to melt and turn liquid. The heat also ensures that any water evaporates. Pork naturally contains a lot of water, even the fattier parts and this needs to evaporate to make pure lard. If too much water remains behind the shelf life of the lard will be significantly lower.
Lastly, rendering also helps to get rid of any other unwanted substances, maybe some proteins such as collagen need to be broken down and filtered out for instance. The whole process is geared to making as pure a fat as possible, truly extracting the fat from the rest of the product.
Lard is very similar to tallow. Whereas lard is made from pork fat, tallow is made by rendering beef fat.
The melting point of lard
Each fatty acid has a different melting point. Since lard (as are most fats and oils) is made up of a combination of fatty acids there is not one specific temperature at which the lard melts. Instead, there is a range of temperatures in which the lard will become softer and softer until it has melted completely.
Also, since not every lard has the exact same composition of fatty acids, not all lard will have the exact same temperatures at which this happens. Generally speaking though, the melting ranges of lard lie in between 30 – 45℃. Most lards will have clearly softened a few degrees above 30℃.
Generally speaking, the longer the fatty acids in lard, the higher the melting point. Presence of oleic acid on the other hand lowers the melting point again, this is caused by the bend in its structure.
Comparing lard with other fats & oils
Since the fatty acid chains determine the properties of lard and other fats and oils it is worthwhile to look into the composition of a few other regularly used cooking fats. You will notice that the main difference is the presence of different fatty acids. It’s what makes oil liquid at room temperature and fats solid at room temperature.
How to use lard
Now that you know that lard is just another fat, let’s start using it. Lard can be used just like any other cooking fat such as butter and olive oil for frying potatoes, etc. Lard is hard to get a hold of here, so honestly, I rarely use it. On the other hand, I do tend to get some bacon which I fry a nice golden brown before adding the rest of my ingredients. The fat that is released during frying is: lard, which the same flavour and composition!
How to store lard
Lard is made up of pure fat. It can often be stored at room temperature, though it may turn a little soft. However, especially if it’s made at home under less than perfect conditions, it can be best to store lard in the fridge.
Cooler temperatures slow down oxidation of the fat. Even though lard contains a lot of saturated fats, which won’t oxidize, it still contains a decent quantity of unsaturated fats which are susceptible to oxidation. Oxidized, or rancid, fats no longer smell great and can develop some off-flavor, so it’s best to prevent it from happening.
Can you freeze lard?
Since lard is made up of almost 100% fat you can definitely freeze it. As a matter of fact, freezing will extend its shelf life considerably. Fats take even longer to turn rancid in the freezer. Since lard doesn’t have a cellular structure such as meat or plants, its quality doesn’t change in the freezer. The individual fat molecules aren’t affected and once molten it will be the exact same as it was before freezing.
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