Friday, June 11, 2010

Manna from New Jersey

Lately, I've come to realize that I'm going through a period of gastronomic recapitulation. 

Specifically, my palate seems to be wanting to eat like my paternal grandparents ate before they both disappeared into the ether. First generation Italian-Americans.  they never really adopted american eating habits. Instead, they mostly cooked and ate the way they did when they lived in Borgo val di Taro in Emilia-Romagna where the most used fat for people of their social class was lard. As befit their new status as middle class Americans they used butter too (I write "they" because my grandfather was a chef who liked to cook at home and my grandmother cooked too.) but mostly they used pork fat in the form of lard (for sauteeing, frying, baking) lardons (strips of fat stuck into roasts), barding (strips of fat or bacon wrapped around roasts and steaks) and lardo (preserved fat) to put on toast and for seasoning. 

I loved the way they cooked and cannot remember not liking the flavor of anything that came out of their kitchen which, of course, was always perfumed in no small part by the scent of pork fat. But let's face it, even though I have always been a proud Italian-American, I am not immune to the cultural biases of mainstream America, and by the time I was 16 and began to cook for myself and family, lard was already "other" food and anyone who ate it was considered to be a little strange. (Not so bacon, which is odd.)  So my cuisine did not develop with pork fat as  a fond or foundational element. I adopted olive and assorted vegetable oils  and butter as my primary cooking fats and the little pork fat I used was mostly incidental to the cooking of pork meat, as when fat drips from roast and becomes incorporated into the fond on the bottom of the pan. 

But life is change, and I'm gone goony for pork fat. About a week ago I ran out of the guanciale that I made from the pig jowl  I bought from Mosefund Mangalitsa during my first visit to that remarkable hog  farm. I'd been using it so often that I think it messed with an epigenetic trigger that kicked on a gene that had gone dormant after my grandparents left this world. So I asked Michael Clampffer, my friend and former student who is in charge of the hog program at  Mosefund Mangalitsa to send me a few pounds of fat back so I can make some lardo and get my diet back on track and look what he sent me. Damn, with friends like this, who needs friends? 


Jon in Albany said...

Looks like you are going to have some fun...

nhallfreelance said...

Growing up, my mom always kept a tub of pork fat, mostly drippings from bacon and roasts, at hand. My flavor memory of many vegetables is hardwired to include the perfume of pork, as vegetable cookery in my house nearly always involved a small amount of weater and a large amount of pork fat. I picked it up in my early twenties, and now use pork fat for quite a few applications. Curious about using actual lard, though. What's the difference, flavor wise, between using pork drippings, and lard? Noticeable? Any significant practical difference?

Bob del Grosso said...


Bacon fat or pork drippings from a roast contain sugars and protein that have been browned. So they have tastes and aromas that are the byproducts of browning reactions, caramelization and seasonings. On the other hand, lard is unseasoned pork fat that has been rendered at low temperature so the flavor is closer to its original state in the body of the living pig.

Also, when pork fat (or any fat or oil) is heated to saute, frying and roasting temps it breaks down and becomes unstable. So, lard which is rendered from pork tissue at low temps, is better for high temp cooking than bacon fat and roast drippings which have been extracted at high temps. Make sense?

Leah said...

I'm only a married in Italian, but I'm always amazed at the difference that simply cooking your veg for a dish in the rendered fat of your meat can make in your sauce, soup, etc. I've been using schmaltz in my cooking lately (rendered chicken fat, cooked down with onions) and it's making the same rich difference in flavor.

Have you tried baking with lard yet, i.e. using it for pie crust?

Bob del Grosso said...

Yes, I have used lard for pie crusts: it's miraculous. By the way, leaf from around the kidneys is best for baking. It is sweet, highly saturated (more saturated fat means flakier crust) and has very little pork aroma.