Lard is rendered pork fat, and the term is typically used to refer to rendered pork fat that is suitable for cooking. But, as there are different types of fat on the pig, there are different types of lard with different characteristics, and some are more appropriate for certain uses than others. Leaf lard is one of them. Read on to learn more about the wonderful world of pork fat, what makes leaf lard different from other types of lard, and what makes it especially good for your cooking and well-being.
What Is Leaf Lard?
Leaf lard specifically comes from the soft, visceral fat from around the pig's kidneys and loin. As such, it has a very delicate, super spreadable consistency at room temperature. This, along with its clean, un-porky flavor, is why leaf lard is considered the highest grade of lard.
How to Use Leaf Lard
Like all types of lard, leaf lard has a high smoking point, making it excellent for frying, pan-searing, and even grilling. While leaf lard doesn't have the pronounced porky flavor of fatback or the stringiness of caul fat, it does have a gentle back note of subtle meatiness that hydrogenated lard lacks. So leaf lard is a good choice when you want that high smoking point, but you don't want the final product to taste like pork, such as when you're making donuts or french fries.
Due to its naturally high moisture content and mild, delicate flavor, leaf lard is particularly prized by bakers for use in producing flavorful, flaky pie crusts and pastries.
True lard-ophiles may even choose to spread whipped leaf lard on bread. Add a sprinkle of sea salt, and you'll see why it is common practice in some regions of the world. But leaf lard is not suitable for everything. Its softer consistency, for example, makes it a poor choice to use for larding.
Leaf Lard vs. Conventional Lard
By definition, leaf lard is made only from certain soft fatty areas of the pig, which gives it its characteristically delicate texture and clean, non-porky flavor. The conventional lard sold in blocks in most stores, by contrast, is rendered from fat from all over the pig and typically treated in a variety of ways, including hydrogenation and bleaching, with the addition of emulsifiers and antioxidants to deodorize the lard, prolong its shelf life, and keep it solid at room temperature.
Leaf lard is already a specific variety of lard in that it is made only from certain fat areas of the pig, and for this reason, is not as readily available as other types of lard. But there are other subvarieties of leaf lard such as organic, made from certified organic pigs raised according to organic regulations, and leaf lard made from specific heritage breeds of pigs.
Leaf Lard Recipes
While leaf lard works quite well as a cooking medium thanks to its high burn temperature and non-meaty flavor, it is not always easy to find. Even when you do find it, it can be more expensive than regular lard. However, leaf lard really shines as an ingredient in baking and cooking, both savory and sweet.
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Where to Buy Leaf Lard
Leaf lard can be tricky to track down. You will have the best luck at small, high-quality butcher shops that fabricate their cuts and make and sell lard. Some pork vendors at farmers markets may also have leaf lard, possibly from organically raised pigs or heritage breeds. There are also some online sources for leaf lard, both organic and conventional, but make sure to order from a supplier that uses refrigerated trucks or packs the leaf lard in a way that protects it from spoiling in transit.
If you cannot find a source for leaf lard but are able to get the requisite visceral fat from your butcher, you can easily make it yourself. There are basically two ways to do it:
- Wet Method: Put the visceral pork fat in a pot with some water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the fat has melted into the water. Let cool and skim off the lard.
- Dry Method: Put the fat in a pot or pan on the stove over medium heat or in an oven set at 350 F and cook until the fat has melted (any bits of skin or meat will turn brown and crispy).
Wet-rendered lard will have a more neutral flavor, while dry-rendered lard will have a brownish tinge and a slightly cooked aroma.
Storing Leaf Lard
Fresh leaf lard can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month, while frozen leaf lard can be kept in the freezer for six months or more. Note that taking it in and out of the fridge or removing it from the freezer shortens the shelf life of lard, so it is best to refrigerate or freeze it in small individual packages that can be removed as needed.