The Case for Lardo

Lardo di Colonnata with its IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) status, is one of the most unique and prized cured meats in Italy, yet misunderstood by many non-Italians. Some folk refuse to touch lardo believing it to be the equivalent of lard or that it will clog up their arteries.

lardo di colannata

Photo courtesy of LaughingMonk on Flickr

Some of the confusion around lardo is explained in the Oxford Companion to Italian Food, which points out that it is not lard, which is strutto in Italian. Lard or strutto is the rendered down fat from around the pig’s loins, kidneys and back, which is used as cooking fat, shortening for baking, or as a spread.  There is no translation for lardo (despite what Google Translate says).

For nearly five decades, health advice has been to avoid animal fats, the “silent killer” that causes heart disease. This medical advice is increasingly being disproved. A BBC Radio 4 Food Programme on lard points out that roughly half of the fat in animal fat is monounsaturated fat that reduces ‘bad’ cholesterol (ldl) and raises ‘good’ cholesterol (hdl). In addition, 90 percent of monounsaturated animal fat is oleic acid, the same as in olive oil that nutritionists tell us is good for us. Furthermore, a third of the fat in saturated fat is stearic acid, the same fat in chocolate that raises our good cholesterol. It appears that the culprit behind heart disease and obesity is more likely to be carbohydrates.

Lardo di Colonnata comes from the Apuane Alps near Carrara. It is traditionally produced from local pigs that have foraged among chestnuts and acorns, and which have well-developed back fat.  Selected cuts of back fat are cured in marble vats using rosemary, a special mixture of other herbs and spices, and brine – a process developed in the Carrara mountains dating back to Roman times. The curing method ensures no bacteria is inadvertently introduced. No refrigeration is used, and the lardo contains no additives or preservatives.  Lardo is cured for a minimum of six months, but can be left in the marble vats for up to five years.

lardo marble vats

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The perfect lardo has a mild flavour with a sweet aroma, is sliced very thinly, melts on the tongue, and is usually enjoyed as part of an antipasto or on slices of hot grilled bread. It is also increasingly being used in gourmet dishes in restaurants alongside other ingredients as a flavour complement.

Lardo is also made in other parts of Italy, particularly in parts of Tuscany where the ancient breed of Cinta Senese pig is used, and in the Valle d’Aosta, both of which have DOP (protected designation of origin) status for their products.

However, there is also a whole industry around the quick cure versions of lardo that uses refrigeration and often preservatives, some of which try to pass themselves off illegally as the Colonnato version. These are the products used in cooking. So don’t be confused when you see a celebrity chef on UK television using ‘smoked lardo’ to make hotdogs. The ‘lardo’ he is chopping up is not the delicacy from Colonnata that costs around €20 a kilo in Italy and £25 a kilo in the UK.

Diets are complex and while lardo is high in calories, there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet. It is delicious.

You may also be interested in: The Pink Lardo of Gombitelli

The Case for Lardo appeared on Ciao Lunigiana on 12 June 2014.

 

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