2. REMSEN, NEW YORK
In Upstate New York, a pig farmer supplies her town with rich lard for baking and frying BY SHANE MITCHELL
Cooking with local lard,
“I WAS NEVER ALLOWED TO HAVE PIGS GROWING UP,” said Jennifer Romer of Slate Creek Farm in northern New York, as she slid ground pork fat into her oven to render. “My dad didn’t like them, so he always said no.” Romer grew up on a second-generation farm in sunny Central California. Now a homesteader who owns a vintage Sunbeam deep fryer and collects wire bail Ball canning jars, Romer also breeds Yorkshire, Duroc, and Hampshire pigs on sunflower-filled pastures above the Steuben Valley. It’s a harsh region north of Utica, home to a strong “waste nothing” hardscrabble ethic.
Romer adjusted the oven temperature to 225°F and stirred the pan with a wooden spoon. “This is three pigs’ worth of leaf lard,” she said. “I’m breaking it apart to move it along faster. If I don’t pay attention, it can burn.” Rendering takes all day when Romer is processing a large batch of fat from belly, shoulder, and back portions. Her leaf lard is prized by a select few customers who hear about it only by chance—she doesn’t advertise. I spotted an unclaimed jar on her table at a weekly farmers market where she sells her pork, and begged to join the lard list.
In an American food culture that is ever-so-slowly relearning to love olive oil and butter after decades of demonizing fat, appreciating lard feels like a kind of final frontier. But it never really went away. It cuts across so many baking cultures because of its essential qualities: large fat crystals and a high melting point. The highest grade—which Romer was making that day—is leaf. Taken from visceral fat deposits surrounding the kidneys, it has a delicate flavor and a creamy consistency suited for pastry. The porkier-tasting fat from other parts of the pig also has
Clockwise from top: Cubing pork belly before rendering; Romer stirs a batch of cooked pork; white gold; straining out the good stuff.