Monday, January 05, 2009

Guess who's back in town?...

No, not Mack the Knife.


You heard me, sweetheart.  Pig fat.
The Mangalitsa is the latest example of a trend toward choosing chubbier breeds and raising them in a traditional manner, Berkshires being the more famous case. Plump animals fed richer foods and allowed to stretch their legs on occasion taste better, chefs contend. "That blend of fat and flesh is where you get that great flavor and mouthfeel," Knell says.
For many producers and users, however, rethinking animal production has broader implications. The organic and sustainable food movements contend the industrial food system's reliance on drugs, chemicals and unnatural feed are sickening humankind and the environment in manifold ways. The increasing use of lard fits right in - it's hardly ecologically consistent to buy a free-range animal and then toss out 15 or more pounds of a perfectly usable part.
"That's one of our core beliefs," says Scott Vermeire, farmers' market manager for Prather Ranch Meat Co., the organic animal operation in the Mount Shasta foothills that began retailing lard from Berkshires earlier this year. "We try to have the most reverence for the animal by using it from head to tail."
Fortunately, the specific properties of pork fat make it a versatile tool, a veritable lipid chameleon. Because of its high smoke point, lard is exemplary in frying and sauteing, producing the clean and crisp results that Perbacco's Terje seeks. Because lard has little water and melts into comparatively large crystals, it acts as ideal spacers between layers of dough, creating flaky and tender pastries. [More]

While I think our taste buds will all agree with the upside of lard (real pie crusts, for one thing), like other retro-food fads, this one faces challenges.  But unlike raw milk, free range eggs, etc. I suspect lard has the intensity of flavor and the utility to surprise food retailers with its popularity. Especially if economic necessity makes actual home cooking more likely.

Another angle is I'll bet pig breeders would love to have a sea change in desirable genetic traits. That's how you sell more gilts and semen. While it may seem high-cost food is in for a real beating in the current economic environment, it could also be consumers will save up for some truly memorable taste experiences.

I'm not the only one who has noticed the limited choice of uniformly unrecognizable and bland meat.  We've even switched almost totally to chicken thighs from breasts just to get some flavor. (Of course, by "we" I mean the person who actually makes the food decisions around here).

While this may be an emerging niche market, it is hard to ignore an awakening to food taste and quality that could very well change livestock farming in the US even as ethanol has.

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