When you raise your own animals for meat you develop a special relationship. We provide the best forage and food, abundant fresh water, shelter from the elements and respect. We know the butcher and participate in the processing of the meat and we use every bit of the animal possible. What doesn’t feed people feeds other animals or our soil. We use everything but the squeal.
When my meat is returned from the butcher I have her label the leaf fat so I can keep it separate from the fat that I shall render for soap making or turn into salt pork. The leaf fat from around the kidneys is special. It renders into a snow white, mild lard, perfect for pastries and frying. The process is time consuming, but not really difficult.
The hardest part is cutting the fat into small chunks so it will render quicker and more evenly. I use my sharpest knife and I wear safety gloves to prevent a nasty cut should the knife slip. I render in my cast iron Dutch oven over very low heat. I add about a ¼ cup of water at the beginning to prevent scorching. Scorched fat has to be tossed and will make your kitchen smell terrible for days. Not that I ever did such a thing.
Once the fat is cut up and in the pan it needs to be stirred from time to time but otherwise left alone. It can take several hours to complete the rendering. Next I strain the hot fat through a fine mesh into quart Mason jars and seal. I let them set overnight and the following day, pop them in the freezer.
You will be left with a pan full of cracklins, golden brown nuggets that will make your cornbread the talk of your next potluck dinner. I freeze these as well.
Fat has gotten a bad rap but recently things have begun to change. It turns out that pasture-raised pigs produce fat that is very high in omega 3 fatty acids. Margarine will kill you, but real food is good for real people.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about rendering your own lard here.