It all began with the desire to eat better food. About five years ago, my husband and I purchased shares of beef and pork from Connecticut farms at our city’s farmer’s market. Not only has this saved us money in the long run, but our beef comes from a pasture-raised cow, free of any hormones or antibiotics harmful to our health, and we get to support a local business. It was an easy decision and a win-win all around.
At first, we began with beef shares from Stone Gardens Farm in Shelton, Connecticut (Stacia rocks). With the beef, we received many known cuts, including shanks (osso bucco) and neck bones supplying our stockpile of homemade broths for the wintertime. Two years ago, we decided to try a pork share from Four Mile River Farm in Old Lyme. The share came along with several cuts unknown to us at first, most notably smoked hocks, lard, skin and fatback. After some research, I discovered all ways to use the “whole hog,” but my personal favorite was what could come of the fatback.
Oh, baby … say hello to lardo.
Fatback, when cured in a salt bath, turns into an unctuous, silky, and salty delight that melts in your mouth, a remarkable addition to any charcuterie platter, or the cook’s kitchen. What’s great is lardo is the easiest of meats to cure in your home, not requiring a open-air, dark chamber with consistent temperature and humidity as most cured meats, such as prosciutto, salami, guanciale, coppa, lonza, and pancetta do.
For traditional recipes and to learn more about the cut, I sought the book Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing by Michael Ruhlman + Brian Polcyn. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you receive a whole hog, the book details insights of the entire history of Salumi as well as a detailed, illustrational guide on how to butcher from scratch.
Lardo takes, at minimum, six months to cure, and can be done in a dark place in your refrigerator. Traditionally, lardo was cured in marble casks, a prevalent, natural material in the town of Colonnata, Italy. Coming across something like this in the states is a rarity, so a non-reactive glass container, wrapped in a black bag to shun excess light, will do the trick. It’s imperative your fatback is from a trusted source in order to yield the creamy, clean-tasting goodness.
My rations totaled three, 1.25 pound slabs of fatback, which I slathered in a copious amount of kosher salt, toasted and crushed black peppercorns, minced garlic cloves, crushed juniper berries and bay leaves, as seen in the Lardo Typico recipe from Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing. First laid to cure in March, we dined on the first of the cured meats for my hubby’s 30th birthday in mid-October, and then again for our spook-tastic Halloween Affair later that month. It was beyond scrumptious.
Thinly sliced, this lardo is, simply, a piece of heaven. My best gal pal, Lillie, and I kindly requested her husband, George, a butcher by profession, to portion one slab of the lardo into thin slices and larger sticks for cooking. George, in his good nature, even scored the skin, which will make for a lovely, pork broth someday soon.
On March 26th, the two remaining slabs turn three! I’ll be checking in on their progress, so stay tuned on Instagram for the update – good, bad, or ugly. 😝
From what I hear, the longer you wait, the better the payoff.
Like any other cured meat, curing lardo is not a race; it takes time, patience, and passion for the outcome. The idea of curing my own meat pleased me, because the intent is to preserve everything you have, and I am a firm believer of “waste not, want not.”
I want to know about you! Have you ever cured your own meats before?
Leave a comment below and tell me your story.