Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Rendering Lard

As I noted in my previous post, the overweight hog we sent to the butcher recently produced---in addition to a freezer full of pork---more than 75 lbs. of fat, which I have been rendering into lard.

The first question people ask when I tell them I've been rendering lard all week, is:  "Why?  No health-conscious person cooks with lard anymore, do they?"  In fact, that's not the case at all.  As described in these various articles, lard is a lot healthier than most people think:

Lard:  The New Health Food
Lard Has Clearly Won the Health Debate
Praise the Lard
Lard:  After Decades of Trying, Its Moment Is Finally Here
Trans Fatty Acids:  Why Lard May Be Better for You Than Vegetable Oil

Of course, even with the unexpected benefits, I'm not planning to eat 75 lbs. of lard this year!  Some of it I'll save for cooking, but the majority I'll make into soap.

Lard soap is mild and gentle to the skin, and it will be great to have some "zero mile" fat for soap making (as opposed to the olive oil I use to make my sheep's milk soap, which is imported from thousands of miles away).  I'll still keep making the olive oil based soap, since it's been very popular, but the natural farmstead lard soap will give buyers an additional option.  Choice is good!

Anyway, since a lot of people have never rendered lard before, I figured I'd show the process, step by step, here on the blog.  Rendering isn't difficult, but it does take a while, so you have to be patient.

Since I had such a huge amount of lard to render, I had to do it one portion at a time over several days, according to how much would fit into my largest stock pot.

Our hog was very large and very obese, so he produced 22.5 lbs. of leaf lard and 53 lbs. of back fat lard.  The leaf lard is the internal fat from around the pig's kidneys.  It is considered the highest quality lard, since it's said to have a finer texture and a more neutral flavor than the back fat lard.

Here is one of the slabs of leaf lard from our pig.  We got two slabs this size.

The slabs of back fat were even larger.  Folded over themselves and stacked together, they filled an entire banana box!

The first step was to cut off chunks of fat that were a more convenient size to handle.  Here's a chunk of back fat, ready for me to start processing.

To get a neutral (not so porky) flavor to my lard, I trimmed off all the little scraps of meat.  Then I cut the fat into little chunks, maybe about 1" square.

The discarded scraps of fatty meat made a VERY popular snack for my chickens!

To begin the rendering process, I put a couple of inches of water in the bottom of my largest stock pot, then filled the rest of the pot with cut-up chunks of fat.  I heated the pot on the stove top until it started to boil, then reduced the heat to a low simmer.  

The water in the bottom of the pot helps prevent the fat from sticking before it has a chance to melt.  By the time the rendering is finished, all the water will have evaporated away.  

You do need to stir the pot (less in the beginning and more frequently toward the end), to prevent the solids from sticking to the bottom and burning on.  

Almost immediately after the boiling started, the fat changed color and began to get translucent.

Little by little, the chunks of fat started to release quantities of melted liquid lard.

For a while, the liquid in the pot was a milky whitish color.  It was at this point that the pot began to need more frequent stirring, because the solids started sinking to the bottom.

Eventually, the liquid turned clear.

The smaller solids sank to the bottom.  It was hard to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot!  Meanwhile, the larger solids puffed up and floated on the top of the liquid.

When the floating bits turn golden brown and slightly crispy, the rendering process is done.  For a pot this size, it took about 6 hours.

Next, I strained the rendered lard through a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth.  The solids that are left in the strainer are "cracklings."  You can salt them and eat them as a snack, cook them in cornbread, sprinkle them on salads, or use them anywhere else you might use bacon bits (they don't taste like bacon, though.  They taste---not surprisingly---like pork rinds).

The cracklings from the backfat came out chunky, as shown in the picture above.  The cracklings from the leaf lard came out in smaller crumbs.

I'm storing my cracklings in ziploc bags in the freezer until I'm ready to use them.  

The rendered, filtered lard itself I poured into mason jars.  I had originally thought I would pour the lard into molds and store it in blocks like pounds of butter.  But unlike the partially hydrogenated lard you can buy in blocks from the grocery store, this lard is still liquid at room temperature, so jars turned out to be essential!

When the lard was first poured into the jars, it was a clear, pale, golden color.

By morning, it had cooled down and turned pure white, but it was still liquid.  It does turn into a solid if you put it in the refrigerator or freezer.
I'm going to store my lard in the freezer until I need it.  Frozen, it should keep almost indefinitely.

From the 75 lbs. of fat I got from my pig, I rendered about 37 quarts of lard.  That will make an awful lot of pie crusts and and awful lot of bars of soap!


V.R. Leavitt said...

Fascinating! I love the step by step pictures too. Very cool.

Debbie Cannatella said...

Thanks for posting the steps to this. I always find your blog fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Lard makes the most divine pie crusts! Thanks for the photos...Laurie

Nancy K. said...

Thank you so much for posting this step-by-step tutorial! I'll use it as a reference the first time I have a hog butchered. I've heard that milk soap made with lard is MUCH better than that made with vegetable oils...

We won't even talk about pie crusts!

Nancy Chase said...

Stand by, Nancy K., I'll have posts about curing bacon and guanciale in your refrigerator pretty soon!

Dutch Hollow said...

Facinating blog post!

I see you raise fiber animals too. I run a Fiber Animal Wordless Wednesday at http://www.alpacabytes.com if you'd ever like to join in.

Natalya said...

One Fat-fiend to another:

a) It isn't a whole food diet unless you eat the whole animal, and that means you HAVE to use some of that lard for pie crusts! (Too bad I'm too far away to help out...)

b) I have the processing plant (a small family-owned business) save all my sheep fat and render it for making sheep milk soap. Someone found a recipe on line for me. Works great. Lasts forever. Smells like...soap! Also tallow candles.

c) The rendering process is quicker if you do two things: 1) grind the fat in a meat grinder (I have my processing plant do it) 2) Take a little time to melt the first pieces you put in the pan, instead of adding water. The lard isn't fully rendered until all the water is driven off anyhow...won't get above boiling point. Water mixes with the cracklings and forms, essentially, HIDE GLUE which--duh--sticks to the bottom of the pan. With no added water there is much less stirring/sticking.

d) For all but the coarsest uses (tallow is a good garden tool dressing and lubricant), I "wash" the rendered fat after it is strained to remove the cracklings. Usually I do this another day. By letting it harden in a pan, I can easily scrape/skim impurities off the top and bottom of the crude fat cake. Then I chunk up the cake into a large pot of boiling water. Once all the fat has melted and boiled for a little while, I set it aside to cool undisturbed. Any impurities end up on the top, on the bottom of the cake, in the water, or on the bottom of the water. Scrape the top and bottom carefully, and you have VERY clean fat for soap, candles, pies, etc.

Natalya said...

P.S. Soap made with any animal fat lasts MUCH longer than soap made with veggie oils...you use less of it for the same result, and it doesn't melt away in the soap dish. This is why most soap makers promote veggie fat soaps...they want repeat business!

Thistle Cove Farm said...

Great post! It makes me furious that people believe whatever they are told without checking it out for themselves. Lard is wonderful stuff and pork is wonderful stuff; it's the additives, preservatives, etc. that are added in corporate kitchens that are bad...Awful...for us.
Soap is fat + lye + water = a product that makes your skin feel wonderful AND is great for various skin problems. But, it doesn't cost the earth and corporations are in business to make money and the best way to make money is to keep us coming back and back and back...
Yeah. I'm on my soapbox; please help me off before I fall off and break something -grin-.

Robin said...

That is awesome that you got so much fat from the pig. I still haven't processed our fat from the pigs we butchered in January. We barely got any fat this year so it's going to be a lean lard year. :(

Sharon said...

Rendering lard today, as it happens.

We got our half pig on Wednesday. Had roasted pork belly that very evening. Talk about Hog Heaven!

I look forward to a guanciale recipe. I've made it once and have more jowls in the freezer.

Jamie said...

Wonderful instructions Nancy, thanks for all the great information.