Of all the cured meats from Italy, for me, lardo is the most essential, primal, and pristine. It challenges our modern view of food down to one of it’s most fundamental and pervasive cores: fat is bad for you. But eaten as intended, sliced thin and consumed sparingly, this fat is good for you in every life-enhancing way imaginable.
Lardo is a thick slab of pork back fat that has been salted and left to cure in a soupy brine for six months. There is no intermediary meat of consequence. You slice it thin, and let the fat melt on your tongue. You can drape it over bread, let it dissolve over a just baked pizza, or add it to countless dishes in place of oil or butter as you would salt pork. It is the purest expression of the pig in all it’s glorious fat-ness.
It Italy, the best lardo is made in Colonnata, where the ancient marble mines of Carrara provide a natural vessel for curing the fat. Marble blocks are hollowed out to make caskets, where the fat cures along with salt, rosemary, and other aromatics for up to six months. The marble keeps the fat at a consistent temperature. And no refrigeration is used – Italians keep their caskets in cool basements or caves.
Lardo is a hard item to come by in the US, so making your own is one of the only viable options for obtaining it. But you need an impeccable source for the fat. You cannot just go down to your local supermarket and buy commercial back fat, full of nasty antibiotics and growth hormones. You need thick (at least 1 inch), organic, farm raised, heritage pork to make this salumi. You want pigs that spend their lives foraging, and from a farmer who is ethical and humane. My source was Caw Caw Creek Farms in South Carolina.
The recipe I used was adapted from Salumi by Ruhlman & Polcyn. The only equipment you need is a scale capable of measuring grams and a non-reactive container that will hold the fat snuggly (you may need to trim it). Some use plastic ziplock bags, but I don’t want plastic touching this fat in a brine for 6 months.
- 100% pork back fat, at least 1 inch thick, skin on
- 50% sea salt (I used grey sea salt)
- 2% crushed and sliced garlic
- .5% black peppercorns, crushed with a mortar and pestle
- .4% juniper berries, crushed with a mortar and pestle
- .15% fresh rosemary stalks, crushed by hand
- .1% bay leaves, ripped into small pieces by hand
Combine all the seasonings. Place some of the cure mix in the bottom of a non-reactive container that can be covered tightly, such as glass or ceramic (or your custom made marble casket!). Set the fat skin side down in the container, and spread the rest of the cure over the top. Cover tightly, and wrap in a black plastic bag to keep the light out, which will destroy the delicate fat. Place in the fridge for six months.
I will post pictures of my lardo when it is finished.