With the return of pork from our homestead pigs, we were also given quite a few bags of pig fat.
Now, what does one do with bag fulls of fat you may ask? I asked myself the same.
Turns out, there is actually quite a bit to learn about skimming the fat. First off, there are two types - leaf lard, and fat back. These are also known as soft and hard fat, respectively. The soft fats come from the interior of the pig, surrounding organs, while the hard fats are what is just beneath the skin (back fat).
When pig fat is rendered, it is known as lard (similarly, when rendering cow fat, it becomes "tallow", for mutton and hard beef lard, it can be called "suet"). Pig lard or tallow can be used for a variety of things, including baking, cooking, candles, suet, soap making and it can be a great additive to various recipes when used similarly to butter (which, let's be real, is just another animal/livestock by-product).
You can pretty much use either one for your crafting purposes, but leaf lard is generally better for pastry-making as it contains less flavor than hard, fatback which is better for cooking (in place of olive oil in a pan per say).
To get the fat to become lard, you have to first render it. So, what is rendering?
To render, means to purify into useful materials. So, when you are rendering fat, your are essentially cooking the fat out of it altogether. Doing so, clarifies the material until it is useful as another product (kind of like Crisco).
How to render the fat:
You will first need to cut up the fat into chunks (approx. 1 inch x 1 inch) and melt them down with 1/2 a cup of water. You can do this in a double boiler, or in a crock pot (we crock it so we can set it and forget it).
The process is slow going. It will likely take the better part of a day (if you go the crock route). Set the crock pot on low, and stir occasionally. If you use a boiler, then you may need to pay closer attention.
When the fat as melted, it will be essentially in liquid form, similar looking to a pot full of olive oil.
Here's where it's a little yucky... You have to strain it through some cheesecloth, as there may be bits of pork left from the initial butchering. It's inevitable that there may be some.
After it has been strained, it can then be used for whatever purpose you intend! For cooking purposes, we recommend keeping it refrigerated. It will basically last forever so I would not stress about it going bad any time soon.... Or, continue with processing for whatever craft-use you have decided upon.
(I am planning on candle making and cooking for my available lard)
^^ Our friends over at Hillside Farm in Berwick, Maine used their lard recently to create beautiful bird suet for Spring birds! They have some available for purchase if you hop on over to their Facebook page here (click)!