Have you ever eaten something so fabulous, so lucious, so decadent that you almost felt the need to run to confession (to confess your indulgent food “sins”), say three Hail Mary’s (that’s for you Catholics out there) and pray really hard that you can zip your jeans up again? Ok, a bit exaggerated, but looking back, this is a bit how my first real taste of lardo made me feel.
Now many of you may be scratching your head wondering, “Lardo? Wait, did she mean to write that? Maybe she mean Lardons? Surely she’s not talking about Lard?” Well, kids, hold on to your Spanx-controlled muffin-top, I am talking about lard. But lardo ain’t just any old lard… it’s special lard. Very, very, very special lard.
In our few trips to Italy over the past couple of years, lardo graced our palates a few times, but only in very small quantites (as it should!). The first time we ate it – in Modena, Italy – we were, sadly, so fiercely hungover that we couldn’t really appreciate it. However, this saved us from eating what was an obscene amount of it – slathered in thin ribbons over a beautiful 12 inch thin-crust pizza and topped with the town’s famous aged balsamic.
|Apologies for the awful, 1970s plate. I’m blaming the in-laws.|
Pearly-white inside and darker and grainy at the edges, lardo, which is basically salt-cured pig fat flavored with rosemary (and occasionally other herbs), is made throughout Italy, though the most famous – lardo di Colonata – is produced only in Colonata, a small, isolated Tuscan town, where the pigs are fed on a steady diet of acorns to better flavor their fat.
In some areas of northern Italy, lardo is used as the cooking fat in which soffrito is sauteed in the preparation of a sugo or ragu, but like other salume, it is often eaten in thin, bite-sized pieces and allowed to melt on the tongue, before being washed down with an effervescent white wine. Which is how, if you can find yourself some, you should try it for the first time. Yes, that’s right, cured pigs’ fat straight-up. No crackers, no bread, no olives. Just fat and your tongue in perfect harmony. It really does melt.
It’s unlikely that we ate lardo di Colonata that day, as the real thing is almost as expensive as the most highly-prized prosciutto, but what we had was still beautifully perfumed of bacon & rosemary, and incredibly rich & luscious tasting, and probably quite pricey in its own right. With the crackle of the pizza crust underneath and the honey sweetness of an ancient balsamic, it was one of the most texturally amazing things I’ve ever put in my mouth, sober, drunk or hungover.
Occasionally, in the intervening year, we’ve complained of a lack of lardo in our lives, but we were completely shocked to find it at a local specialty foods store over the summer – and it was cheap too! They had about half a pound left, and we bought the whole thing, fearing that we might not find it ever again outside of Italy. Fortunately, because it’s cured, it has a good long shelf-life, so we’re taking it easy to make sure we don’t drop dead from cholesterol-related disease before we’re done eating it.
I think we need to do more research into recipes that call for lardo, because apart from taking it neat, so far we’ve only recreated that decadent pizza from Modena. There’s a recipe below, but the sad thing is, if you don’t have any lardo or anywhere that sells it, and you don’t have a 25 year old balsamic vinegar to top it with, that recipe might not be much use. Still, you can aspire to collect these ingredients, and trust me, when you find them, make this pizza and you’ll be glad you waited for it. It might be the most incredible pizza that ever passes your lips.
Lardo Pizza with Wilted Radicchio & Onion
For an absolutely tried & tested, nailed-on recipe for the perfect thin-crust pizza dough read this previous post: Remembering Italy with Thin-Crust Pizza. To get the finest aged balsamic vinegar available in North American delivered to your door, click here, or if you don’t want to buy the good stuff, you can reduce the ordinary kind in a saucepan until consistency resembles molasses.
Unfortunately, Italian lardo is not exported to America. The American Department of Agriculture wants it heated to 156 F (69 C) before it is sold to consumers, but at that point, the fat would start melting, and it would no longer be lardo. However, we found some domestically produced lardo completely by chance in a local store, so you may get lucky somewhere along the line. And while it is widely thought that Italian lardo is greatly superior to any made domestically because it is aged for so much longer, we found US lardo to be very acceptable indeed. Your best bet if you don’t have any awesome gourmet food stores nearby, and this may be even trickier, is to get friendly with your local organic hog farmer and have him save you some back fat from best fed pig on his farm, then cure your own pig fat! Why not? Good luck!
Ingredients & Recipe
1/2 head of radicchio di Chioggia (regular round, red radicchio), shredded finely
1/2 spanish (yellow) onion, finely sliced
2tbsp good olive oil
1 pinch kosher salt
– Sweat radicchio and onion until soft and decorate your pizza with it.
– Then, place thinly-sliced lardo on top and fire pizza in the oven. Remove and dress immediately with balsamic vinegar.
– Savor every mouthful.