Lauding Lardo

Pork Fat Rules! Ask Lagasse, Batali, Bourdain. Pork fat equals yum.

Like hope, the possibilities of pork spring eternal. Prosciutto, Iberico, porchetta, guanciale, speck. Even Barrett Browning would be challenged to count the ways. And here comes yet another, waddling its luscious, fatty way into artisanal-minded restaurant kitchens.

Lardo, a salt-cured and aged slab of pure pork fat, has become a go-to ingredient for all manner of well-crafted dishes. That creamy chunk oozing on your asiago-and-herb pizza? Lardo. The pale strips flavoring your bean ragout or risotto? Lardo again. The translucent wrapping on your fish or chicken breast? You guessed it. Traditionally spread onto warm bread or sliced as antipasto, the farmhouse staple has, like pâté and confit before it, gone high-end. Credit Mario Batali for catapulting lardo pizza to celebrity status; now young chefs steeped in the European artisanal ethos are buying locally raised pigs and doing their own butchering and curing. Lardo, which derives from the thick fat layer at the animal’s rump, has a mild taste, is rich without being greasy, and, with its traditional salt, garlic, and rosemary cure, imparts both flavor and moisture. Plates’ (121 Myrtle Ave, Larchmont, 914-834-1244) Matthew Karp, who trained in northern Italy, aka Lardo Central (Carrara’s Lardo di Colonnata, cured for months in marble tubs, is a venerated specialty), makes his lardo from Vermont-sourced pigs, simmers it with beans and in soups, slices it for charcuterie, and shaves it onto flatbread with asiago cheese, pickled mushrooms, and broccoli rabe. “Lardo’s subtle sweetness and richness is a foil to the other ingredients,” he says. “It complements the sweet and salty.”

Philip McGrath at Iron Horse Grill (20 Wheeler Ave, Pleasantville, 914-741-0717) concurs. He uses it to flavor a tomato broth for mushroom ravioli and to wrap a skinless stuffed pheasant breast for roasting. And it’ll be your lucky day at Harvest on Hudson (1 River St, Hastings on Hudson 914-478-2800) if Vincent Barcelona is making his lardo-studded asiago, Parmesan, and heirloom-tomato pizza.

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At Port Chester’s Tarry Lodge (18 Mill St, Port Chester 914-939-3111), Batali acolyte Andy Nusser butchers Hudson Valley pigs and slices lardo for a charcuterie platter. And don’t expect butter with your grilled focaccia there; Nusser’s spread of choice is that same lardo, puréed to a silken Croesean apotheosis. “Fat is flavor,” he states. “And this is the best fat you can buy.”

Of course, fat is also, well, fatty. And this one is loaded with the saturated kind, though not as heavily as is butter. Here’s a more useful rationalization: lard (pork fat in its uncured state) has almost double the healthy monounsaturated fat as butter. So there it is, your pass to another spree in pork heaven. Worship at the aforementioned restaurants, or at your home altar by ordering from murrayscheese.com. That website suggests spreading its heritage Berkshire-breed lardo on your morning slice of toast alongside a nice cappuccino. Hey, with all that good monounsaturated fat, might as well make it two slices.

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