Sky Full of Bacon

Lardoblogging: The Sequel

I made lardo, seasoned cured pig fat once. (You can see how here.) It was okay. I still have some vacu-packed in my freezer. It really only works as a novelty for parties; you don’t get very far with a spouse saying “Some pigfat for your bread, darling?”

Taken in very small moderation, sliced super-thin and placed on a piece of just-toasted bread that it melts into, it’s a wonderfully decadent thing. Still, my one adventure in lardomaking might have been my only, except that during the production of my current Sky Full of Bacon podcast, starring Rob Vital Information Gardner’s pig head, Rob also gave me the back fat from his hog. It sat in my freezer for a month with no particular end use in mind.

That changed with a conjunction of recent events. One was tasting the house-cured lardo at Vie last Friday. Although Mike Sula and I both found it a little too sweet for our tastes, overall the complexity and lushness of the thinly sliced fat inspired me to want to give lardomaking another shot.

The other was acquiring Jennifer McLagan’s new cookbook Fat. Having admired her book Bones, I even more admired the unabashed attitude behind a book that boldly proclaims:

On pp. 95-6, she gives a much more detailed explanation of where lardo originates than I’d read before:

The method for making lardo has changed little over time. It begins with back fat, usually with the skin still attached, which is cut into thick rectangular slabs. These pieces of fat are rubbed with a spiced sea salt mixture containing black pepper, fresh rosemary and garlic. Each producer adds his own special blend of spices, which can include cloves, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, juniper, bay leaves, sage, oregano, thyme and star anise. Once seasoned, the fat is packed into rectangular marble vats called concas. These concas are placed in cellars where the fat ages for six months to two years. During this time the salt draws the moisture from the fat, forming a brine that preserves it, while the combination of spices and herbs adds flavor…

The best-known lardo is lardo di Colonnata, made in Colonnata, a tiny Tuscan town perched in the hulls above the marble quarries of Carrara… The quarries still provide the marble for the local concas, and some producers claim that it is the porous quality of this marble that is the key to the finesse of lardo di Colonnata…

Now, I had my doubts about some of this— for instance, that enough liquid will ever come out of the fat to produce this brine. Nevertheless, now I had a certain model to follow. So I trimmed out the fat, unfortunately it had been cut rather randomly already, but I produced a reasonable assortment of pieces which would fill a square foot:

I went to Home Depot and found two large marble tiles, and to the Container Store to find a box of the right size. Since the box wasn’t food grade, I lined it with parchment paper. If it gets to the point where enough liquid is expressed, I can figure something else out, but for now that seemed fine. I made my spice blend: a lot of sea salt, some black pepper, toasted coriander and juniper, plus ground garlic and rosemary shredded in the food processor. I placed the first marble tile in the box, covered it with a layer of the spices, arranged the pieces tightly together, and packed more spice over them and in all the little crevices:

Finally, I lay the other marble tile on top, and then weighted it down further with some old leftover tiles, which won’t touch food.

Then into the bottom of the beer fridge for the next six months— or more. Check back in April to find out how it turned out!

UPDATE 11/22/08: I started to get nervous about not having any pink salt in my lardo salt mix to ward off the nastiest bugs like Clostridium botulinum. So since I had to move the lardo out of the fridge and into a nearly-as-cold cellar to make room for a thawing T-day turkey, I took the opportunity to scrape a lot of the salt back into a bowl, mix it with an appropriate amount of curing salt, and repack the lardo. A little of the salt around the edges had become crusty, suggesting that a little bit of moisture has been expressed over time, but as expected it’s nowhere near what the bacon does in just a few days. Does that mean it will absorb the pink salt, if there’s no liquid to facilitate osmosis? We shall see in another 4-1/2 months…

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9 Responses to “Lardoblogging: The Sequel”

  1. helen Says:

    Oh, this looks insane. Absolutely beautiful. I don’t know if I can wait six months to find out the outcome.

    I’ve got a copy of Fat sitting on my desk right now, and am gearing up for a round of Bacon Baklava this weekend. Lardblogging really should be the new national sport.

  2. Jon in Albany Says:

    Looks like an excellent experiment. My only concern is that you it kind of looks like a lardo panini press. The blurb said marble vats. I couldn’t find an image of a marble concas online. Plenty of nice pictures of lardo out there though. Was there a recommendation for a weight on top? I have about 25 pounds of frozen back fat and might have to give this a try.

    I noticed you skipped the pink salt. In then end did you like the guanciale without the pink salt better? It was undecided in the last post I read.

  3. Jon in Albany Says:

    skip the “you” in the second sentence. Brain cramp.

  4. Michael Gebert Says:

    I think the idea is that you pack it tightly into the conca, so I figure this is roughly the same. I just figured acquiring a marble vat of any sort was going to cost a lot more than two $3.99 tiles.

    Actually, the lardo never had the pink salt. I don’t know which guanciale I ever liked better, they both seem fine, I feel a little safer with the pink salt in something that has actual meat in it.

  5. Jon in Albany Says:

    I’m with you on the pink salt. There is definitely a feeling of safety that goes with it.

    In Charcuterie, they use some pink salt in the cure. They also use a weight on top, similar to your set up. I had remembered the pink salt, but forgot about the weight. Until tonight, I hard read about lardo but Charcuterie was the only place I had read about making it.

    I found a picture of a conca. Here’s a link:

    I’d say you are correct in assuming importing one of these would cost more than 10 bucks. I guess if the conca is filled with slabs of fat, they will weigh themselves down.

    I hope it turns out well.

  6. Michael Gebert Says:

    I checked on the condition of the lardo last night. Not that you can see a whole lot, but if there’s any liquid at all being expressed, it’s quickly absorbed by the salt.

    You’re right, there was pink salt in the original batch, but I think given that there’s virtually no meat in these pieces, there should be no concern about spoilage on a level that the regular salt isn’t up to retarding.

  7. Jay Fitzpatrick Says:

    That’s how it’s made! I got some lardo from La Quercia ,Norwalk ,Iowa and it is a revelation. Have you ever made scrapple? It’s an old Pennsylvania Dutch dish that when it is done right makes the start of your day worth getting up for. I am considering incorporating lardo in my scrapple recipe Oooooo!

  8. Sky Full of Bacon » Blog Archive » Lardoblogging: The Three-Month Mark Says:

    […] Read the beginning of this lardoblogging saga here. […]

  9. Sky Full of Bacon » Blog Archive » Coppafinale! Says:

    […] So I also had half of the lardo, as described here and here, hanging in the fridge for an extra few months. I took that down at the same time and […]