by Patricia on November 12, 2009 · 11 comments


I finally had time today to go on my quest for the Holy Grail of pie crust: leaf lard. While I did not find leaf lard specifically, I came home with two different lards (is lards a word?).

First things first… What is lard?

Main Entry: lard
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin lardum, laridum; perhaps akin to Greek larinos fat
Date: 14th century

: a soft white solid or semisolid fat obtained by rendering fatty pork

– from Merriam-Webster

And what is leaf lard?
Leaf lard is the highest quality lard. It comes from around a pig’s kidneys. According to Wikipedia, “[it] has little pork flavor, making it ideal for use in baked goods, where it is treasured for its ability to produce flaky, moist pie crusts.”

Okay, fine. So that’s the point, right? Pie crust. I remember the episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown smuggles lard out of the grocery store for use in his pie crust (by the way, he uses the green and white box). Still, I wonder what makes it so much better than vegetable shortening?

Anyway, I set out this morning on my lard quest. I knew if all else failed I could pick up some of the shelf-stable Mexican lard I have seen in the mercados, but first I wanted to try to find something fresher… and preferably leaf lard. I thought of a few places that had nice meat departments or butcher shops, thinking they might have lard (rendered or not).

My first stop was Andronico’s. When I asked the butcher if he had any lard, he told me it was on aisle 9 in a green and white box. Mexican lard. As I turned toward aisle 9, he asked “You making tamales?”. I looked back and said “Actually, it’s for pie crust.” Surprise flickered across his face and he said “Well, now I want some pie.”

I’m not sure exactly what kind of lard is in the green and white box, but I bought it anyway just in case my next stop was unfruitful.


I drove a little further to Dittmer’s Gourmet Meats. It is a German butcher shop that makes great sausages. I saw on a forum (maybe Chowhound?) that someone recommended checking with German butchers for leaf lard… and so I did. Anyway, what I found there was rendered lard in a small tub in their refrigerated case. It’s German name is schmalz… umm? Ick. Not that lard is a pretty word, but schmalz?

Schmalz or no, I was on a mission, so I bought it. When I got home, I started to measure ingredients for a pie crust, but when I opened the lard, I couldn’t bring myself to use it. Partly because it wasn’t chilled (and all of the fats in your pie crust need to be chilled). And partly because the tub of schmalz from Dittmer’s was a little goopey in its unchilled state and smelled porky. Which I guess should be expected as it is rendered pork fat. But I found the smell unpleasant today (this from a girl who uses bacon fat instead of butter or olive oil to cook with just because it’s pork fat and adds flavor to whatever I’m cooking. I can’t explain why the lard gave me the heeby-jeebies).

I decided to put the lard into the refrigerator so we could both chill a bit. And instead made a pie crust using vodka, as mentioned by Evie in the comments of the pie crust (part 1). I haven’t baked it yet though, that I’m afraid will have to wait until tomorrow. And maybe I will find the guts to use some of the lard by then too…

In the meantime, here is a little more about lard:

  • Rendering lard – Stop motion video from Not Without Salt. This post also includes a list of links to other methods to render lard.
  • leaf lard – Art of Pie (Kate McDermott)


1 Jill McKeever November 22, 2009 at 5:18 am

I had no idea there were different lards. Thank you for the enlightenment.
I’m wondering. When we go to the pig farmer to ask for leaf lard, will they give us the cut of fat and we render it ourselves? Or do we expect that they keep batches of it on hand?

I’m happy to meet someone that uses bacon drippings in place of butter and olive oil in their cooking. Every time I oven-fry bacon, I transfer the liquid gold into mason jars and store them in the frig. It’s practically free food and I save my good olive oil and butter for recipes where they can be fully appreciated.

2 Patricia November 22, 2009 at 10:00 am

I think it depends on the farm. Some of them may render lard and sell it that way. Others may not. I’m hoping to find one that renders it so I don’t have to :)

I may be taking the bacon fat thing too far, but yesterday I made chocolate chip cookies and replaced a little bit of the butter with bacon fat. Not a lot, just enough to leave you wondering “what is that?” (in a good way).

3 Brit Hammer November 14, 2009 at 1:31 am

You had me at pie crust! That was a riot, Patricia, and I’m curious to hear if smaltz (I would italicize that if I could) is the secret to great pie crust–if the old ways yield better results–or if it’s just a great way to use all parts of the animal. Who knew – you’re including a language lesson in the lard lesson, too! But, um, what time did you say you expect the pie to be ready???

4 Patricia November 22, 2009 at 9:58 am

I think the old ways do yield better results, although given that lard used to be as popular as butter (or more so) does that mean they used to make pie crust with all-lard? I wonder.

5 Veronica November 14, 2009 at 1:01 am

Interesting and informative! I’ve never used lard in anything and am curious to see how it compares with the other pie crusts. My favorite so far is a butter & shortening combo but I’m always willing to try something new.

6 Patricia November 22, 2009 at 9:56 am

This was my first time buying and using lard for anything. I guess it’s not as scary as I thought :)

7 Jenny November 13, 2009 at 11:18 am

I’m going to Kate’s class in January – can’t wait to see her leaf lard. I rendered my own earlier this month and it was a stinky mess, although it did make nice looking lard. Just not nice *smelling* lard! If you want to see how it’s not done, come visit:

Have a great day!

8 Patricia November 22, 2009 at 9:55 am

Depending on the leaf lard I find (if I ever find it), I may have to render it myself. I’m not sure I want to though :) I don’t like when the house smells like food after your done in the kitchen (unless it’s apple pie or something).

9 Kate McDermott November 13, 2009 at 12:07 am

Hi Patricia- Do try and find a farmer who is raising pigs to see if you can get some leaf lard. The results of your pies will be very different in taste and texture than with the product you bought. I’m continue to test crust recipes, too. Two nights ago I made 5 variations of a vodka crust and I still like the leaf lard/butter crust the best. Keep us all posted on your tests and results.

10 Patricia November 22, 2009 at 9:53 am

Thanks Kate. I’m still hunting for leaf lard in my area. I’ve asked my meat CSA if they have it, and am waiting for their response. Here’s hoping…

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