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    Pork fat in a jar, but it’s actually good ol’ lard

    I was perusing the gourmet food section of a Marshalls store recently when I came upon a product straight from my childhood.

    Pork fat.

    When I was growing up in Georgia, it was called lard, and my grandmother fried some of the best chicken, and made some of the best biscuits and pie crusts with it. That stuff was full of artery-clogging cholesterol and fat, but what it did for food outweighed its poor health benefits. Besides, who knew that we were killing ourselves too early (but maybe not, since many of those old folks like my grandmother who continued the tradition of cooking with lard lived long lives).

    The pork fat at the Marshalls store was in a glass jar with a simple black and white label featuring a fat hog. “Epic Berkshire Pork Fat,” the label stated. “Time Honored Cooking Fat.” It had 130 calories per 1 tablespoon serving, with 22 percent total fat, 23 percent saturated fat, 5 percent cholesterol and 0 percent everything else. It was priced at $4.99 ($9.99 on the company’s website).

    A jar of the Epic pork fat, reminiscent of the lard commonly used years ago in many kitchens.

    A jar of the Epic pork fat, reminiscent of the lard commonly used years ago in many kitchens.

    The back of the label boasted that this “handcrafted” product allowed the Epic company to use the whole animal, from “snout to tail.” We used to say that folks used everything on the pig except the squeal. I guess that was the Epic company’s way of saying the same thing (I wondered if they also sold chitterlings and pig’s feet, both a Southern tradition, and also included between the snout and tail).

    The label also suggested uses for pork fat: replace butter, fry chicken, saute veggies, make biscuits and pie crusts, and cook authentic tamales. But unlike the real lard, you have to refrigerate this stuff after opening it. Back in the day, it seemed, lard could sit on a table or in a cabinet for ages without spoiling (or maybe my grandmother used so much of it that she ran out often and quickly replaced it).

    I decided to check out the website of Epic Provisions of Austin, TX, to see what else I could find out about its pork fat, and how much it paid homage to all those women like my grandmother who never thought of it as artisanal.

    The back label on the Epic pork fat jar, noting the nutrition facts and more.

    The back label on the Epic pork fat jar with nutrition facts and more.

    One of the things I found was a recall on June 16 of the company’s animal-based oils – it also sells duck fat, and beef and bison tallow. According to the company, the recall was based on a “production issue. Our testing has shown the conditions in the jar could allow unsafe bacteria to grow.”

    Epic suggested that consumers throw out any jars purchased over the last year, and call its office for a refund. I wonder if Marshalls is aware of the recall. I saw the pork fat there a week ago.

    On its website, the company describes itself as a “meat-based superfoods company inspired by nature,” selling everything from bison to bacon. It lays out its philosophy for honoring the ancestors who lived off the land and its animals, and how the company tries to do the same with its products.

    Still searching the website, I found that the animal oils are part of its Whole Animal Project: “Time-tested by our great-great-great grandparents, we are bringing animal oils back into the kitchen where they belong.”

    An early Armour lard ad. From amourlard.com

    An early Armour lard ad. From amourlard.com.

    The company was founded by two people who say they tried plant-based, raw foods and vegan diets, but found themselves lacking energy. So, they added animal protein to their diets and went on in 2013 to create the Epic brand, which includes meat products and protein bars that contain meat. General Mills bought the company in January.

    I found that this was not the only company selling pork fat. Fatworks Foods offers some of the same types of oils (and only oils, including wild boar lard) and is a direct competitor, billing itself as the “first” to do it.

    As for lard, it was a staple in cultures where pork was readily consumed. In the 19th century, lard was used in place of butter in both this country and abroad. It remained the go-to product well into the 20th century even when vegetable oil was available and considered healthier. Crisco vegetable shortening was created in 1911 as a solid substitute, and was sometimes used by cooks alongside lard.

    Lard was made at home during hog-killing and other times by rendering pig fat, cooking it down in a tedious process (the same for making lye soap). Lard lost its luster after World War II as more folks became concerned about saturated fat, high cholesterol and heart disease. It has been found, however, that lard has less saturated and monounsaturated fats than butter, and is low in omega-6 fatty acids. Some chefs are said to use lard, and some folks feel it’s better than other such cooking products.

    Fatworks Foods pork lard in a jar.

    Fatworks Foods pork lard in a jar.

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