How to make lard

Is there anything better than sitting down to a warm slice of apple pie, with a rich flaky crust, and a nice cold dollop of vanilla ice cream on top?

Oh, now I'm hungry.

Anyone with a grandma who bakes knows that a proper flaky crust is made with lard, not butter. 

A plate of golden french fries is that much more delicious when it's fried in lard. 

You could purchase a bucket of lard from the grocery store, or you could make your own.

How to make lard

First, get your hands on some pork kidney fat. You can make lard with back fat too, but I find that it sometimes retains some of the savoriness of the pork (only a problem if you're using it with sweet dishes). If you do use back fat, get it from a heritage breed Berkshire hog, which are known for their clean, creamy fat. 

Kidney fat is internal, like a blanket that cradles the kidneys. When cool it flakes and crumbles easily. 

To start, grind your lard if you can. If you don't have a grinder, cut it into very small pieces. The goal here is to increase the surface area so rendering is faster and more thorough. 

Put the pieces of fat into a dutch oven. Or, you can use a crock pot which will be even easier because you can forget about it for a little while. 

Pour 1/4 cup of water into the pot. The water will heat up and jumpstart the rendering process. Set the flame to low, so the lard is barely simmering. Stir occasionally. By the time the lard is done, the water will have evaporated leaving only the fat. If you're using a crock pot, crack the lid so steam can escape. 

After all the white pieces of fat disappear, you should be left with only little bits of browned meat at the bottom of the pan. With the dutch oven this took about an hour and twenty minutes. With the crock pot, it may take a few hours.

Set up a bowl with a strainer and cheese cloth on top. Pour the liquid fat through the cheese cloth. Use a ladle to scoop the lard into jars. I left the last 1/2 cup or so and used it in a recipe that night, in case there were any bits of meat at the bottom that eluded my cheesecloth. 

Save the pieces of browned meat in the cloth - you can use these to make cracklins. If you grind your fat, the cracklins will be so little that you can use them to top a mac-n-cheese, just like breadcrumbs!

Correction in the video below: rendered lard IS shelf-stable, like olive oil or butter. However, just like either of those go bad over time and with too much heat, so does lard. Feel free to leave a jar in a cool place on the counter, but be sure to use it within a few weeks. If you store it in the fridge, it will last a few months. You can also freeze it for even more shelf life. 

Pie anyone?