In Up­state New York, a pig farmer sup­plies her town with rich lard for bak­ing and fry­ing BY SHANE MITCHELL

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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.

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