In its purest form, lardo is fat from the back of a pig, but the history of this ingredient goes far beyond this definition. Used for centuries in Italian cuisine, namely that from Colonnata, a Tuscan hamlet in the Apuan Alps, this food dates back to the time when Romans were the superpower. It's still made today by curing, spicing, and aging this exceptionally fatty cut of meat to create a rich charcuterie that can be eaten in many ways.
What is Lardo?
Lardo is thick, unctuous, and silky in texture, qualities that become more pronounced when enhanced with rosemary, garlic, sage, oregano, coriander, anise and cinnamon. Traditionally, lardo was cured in boxes made from Carrara marble, the valuable local stone quarried in Colonnata. The marble would be rubbed with garlic before layering the lardo and spices inside, and the contents left to age for six months.
While it does add to the overall authenticity of this product, marble casing is not necessary to make lardo. Before the back fat of the pig is salt-cured, it's slippery and unappetizing. Once its moisture is drawn out, however, this fat becomes buttery and umami-rich — perfect for enhancing bread, vegetables, and other meats.
How To Use Lardo
Lardo isn't cooked, but rather sliced thinly and added to cheese and charcuterie platters or used as a kind of garnish or finishing element. Serve paper-thin slices with roasted almonds and olives for a luscious appetizer, and drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle of smoked salt for another layer of flavor. Rendering the fat and whipping it like cream make it perfect for slathering on dinner rolls.
For a more creative approach, try using lardo instead of other fats. Drape it over toast rounds or stuffed dates for a simple, elegant appetizer. Cook lardo with potatoes (or any starchy vegetable) and let the fat melt in just before serving. Lardo has a high smoke point, so frying with it works is another option. Lardo can even cubed and cut into pastry dough.
What Does Lardo Taste Like?
Lardo has a sweet, subtle pork flavor and a texture not unlike butter. It's best eaten in very thin slices so the fat can melt over the tongue. Aside from a rich umami flavor, lardo has nuances of the herbs used to cure it.
Lardo Vs. Pork Belly
Both of these foods are on the fatty side of pork products, with lardo being pure fat and pork belly being largely fat. Pork belly has more meat attached, and a smokier flavor. Pork belly is often served as a main course, unlike lardo, which is typically served as an appetizer or part of a side dish.
Not many ingredients compare to lardo, though there are a lot of ways to use lardo instead of other fatty pork products. Since it can be melted, lardo works well for searing meat and sauteeing vegetables, can be used instead of bacon fat, bacon or pancetta in recipes. Try it in the following recipes:
- Wilted Spinach With Bacon
- Shredded Brussels Sprouts and Smoked Bacon Recipe
- How to Make an Epic Charcuterie Board
Where to Buy Lardo
Lardo comes in a solid form and in a jar. The first style is more traditional and easier to find commonly found.
Finding it can be tricky, since lardo isn't a very common ingredient. A specialty butcher shop may carry their own version, and many markets with a well-stocked charcuterie section will have it. Call your local Italian grocer or import shop ahead of time to see if they stock it. Online specialty markets like Zingerman's, La Quercia, and Murray's Cheese may also stock it.
Because lardo is cured, it doesn't necessarily need to be refrigerated unless it won't be eaten for a few days. Make sure it's sealed in an air-tight container in a cool, dark spot in the pantry until ready to use. If the lardo is pre-sliced, refrigerate it in an air-tight container for up to three months. Avoid freezing lardo, as the cold will break down the structure of its fat cells, and while it will still taste good, its silky texture likely won't survive.
Nutrition and Benefits
Lardo is 60% monounsaturated fat with with oleic acid content (the good fat), which may be surprising for an ingredient that's 100% fat. In fact, lardo is technically healthier for you than butter. It does have a lot of cholesterol, however, so enjoy (but don't go hog wild!)