I finally found the word I have been searching for since we embarked on our Mangalitsa journey: Lardcore. This term was coined to describe many of the hardcore, young Southern chefs who are bringing back traditional Southern foods and recipes. And nothing is more sacred to the Southern kitchen than a good batch of lard. We were acquainted with the glorious nature of heritage pig lard when we purchased our first processed Berkshire pig a couple years ago from Southern Berkshire Farms, in Westminster, SC. We asked for all of the lard and trimmings to make our own sausage and to our delight we got a bag of leaf lard. Rendering the leaf lard yields a beautiful, sweet, pure white lard that is perfect for biscuits and pie crusts. The fatback can be rendered for frying, roasting, basically any application that you would use cooking oil for.
Beautiful Lard from Smoky Mountain Mangalitsa!
Let’s talk for a minute about vegetable shortening, canola oil, and other plant-based hydrogenated fats. According to NPR, “Lard did not just fall out of flavor. It was pushed. It was a casualty of a battle between giant business and corporate interests.” A flailing Proctor and Gamble, losing the candle market to electricity had a glut of cottonseed oil and with that, hydrogenation and Crisco were born. The science backed them up, heralding the negative impacts of lard and butter.
With lard sales dwindling, pig farmers abandoned heritage pigs in favor of leaner breeds. Commercial pigs are valued for their leanness and quick growing traits. The average time frame to grow out a pig to market weight is four to six months. They are finished on six to ten pounds a day of corn and soybean meal. They do not spend a single day on the dirt. And one bite will tell you everything you need to know. They are indeed, “The other white meat.” And frankly, if you ever have to refer to something as “the other” anything, it probably is not worth your time or money.
In stark contrast stand the Mangalitsa pigs; the last hallmark of the world’s hairy pig breeds. Developed in the 1800s from several breeds of pigs in Hungary, Serbia, and Croatia, the Mangalitsa have genetic roots dating back to Roman times. Curly haired, with great personality and temperament, these are amazing pig to raise on the farm. But it is the fat where the true magic lies.
Finished properly, a pasture-raised 18–24-month-old pig will have 60-70% fat, compared to 30% or less in commercial breeds. The difference is that the mangalitsa pig fat is predominantly unsaturated and the most of that is monounsaturated, fats which are responsible for lowering bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol. The meat has been called “the Kobe beef of pork” for its lush marbling. Rich in anti-inflammatory fatty acid, it contains two to three times the Omega-3 as most fish. It is a superb source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an antioxidant that can provide protection against certain cancers and heart disease, and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, particularly Vitamin D and Zinc.
That’s great news, right? You’re telling me that pig fat is actually good for me? But come on now, 60-70% fat? What am I going to do with all that fat? Render it, eat it, whip it in frosting, make manganaise, make luscious charcuterie, make the flakiest pastry, and the tastiest fried food. Give it a try, I think you’ll find that Mangalitsa is anything but “the other white meat”!
Stop vilifying lard! Be Lardcore! #bringbackthelard