Lard is the new bacon. It's showing up on t-shirts, at farmers' markets, and, according to James Temple's feature on the history and current use of lard in the San Francisco Chronicle, in popular restaurants around the Bay Area.
But lard wasn't always welcome in the kitchen. Temple explains that while lard used to be a chef's best friend—records of its use date bake to 1420—all that changed when Proctor & Gamble introduced Crisco in 1911 and proclaimed that animal fats were unsophisticated and unsafe. With increasing heart attack rates in the late 1960s, fear of fat kicked in and pushed lard even further out of the picture.
The truth is that lard in small amounts can actually be good for you—it contains nearly a quarter less saturated fat than butter, no trans fats, and helps to balance the types of polyunsaturated fats in our diets. Its high smoke point makes it perfect for frying and sautéeing, while its low water content and tendency to melt into large crystals results in tender, flaky pastries. Lard is even helping safeguard a rare breed of pig called the Austrian Mangalitsa hog, which is now being raised at Red Mountain Farm in Livermore, California, specifically for the quantity and quality of lard it provides.
Some supermarkets carry rendered pork fat, but Temple says that the best lard, from the area around the abdomen and kidneys (leaf lard) or from the back (fatback lard), can be hard to find, so if you're looking for real lard, call ahead or try your local butcher. You can also make your own at home.