First off, thanks to everyone who responded to my abject plea for comments as I try to breach the 500 post/500 comment barrier before the Philter’s 5th birthday in May. As of today the comments stand at 484 and the posts at 472 — 473 once this goes up.

Correspondent Tommy V. wrote:

Hey have you ever thought about writing something about lard. It’s not something people really talk much about these days. It’s kind of the forgotten fat, I guess you could say. I know me personally, I had to buy some lard the other day and I’ve got to tell you I almost felt like I was making an illicit transaction. There I was in the grocery store walking down the aisle with my brick of lard. I laid it down on the conveyor belt — tempted, as you can imagine, to throw a bunch of other unnecessary items down with it just to hide my shame. Of course in my case frugality always trumps shame, so I didn’t. But, you know, the check out lady made some comment like, “did you find everything you needed?” or “is that all for you?” What am I supposed to say to that? And then the box boy asks if I need a bag. (I didn’t take one — I shouldn’t be trying to cover anything up).

But why should it be that way? It didn’t used to be that way. Times were different. Why I was just talking w/ my mom about lard and she said my grandmother used it all the time. Lived to be 84, by the way.

So I think something about lard is in order. I mean what exactly is it? I know people say “animal fat”, but is it that stuff we trim off our steaks? Do they just press it all together into one big glob? And what about the health-related issues? I know people are saying “stay away from the lard”. But you know what I’m wondering? We’ve got this obesity problem in America. You’ve heard about it right? Well why is it that as lard consumption goes down — as lard is vilified — obesity goes up? Something doesn’t quite add up, does it? Look at it this way; 70-80 years ago — lots of lard, little obesity. Flash forward to today: little lard, lots of obesity. You get what I’m saying? Maybe all this organic stuff isn’t what it’s all cracked up to be. Maybe our lard-eating ancestors knew a little more about nutrition than we give them credit for.

Tom has a way with words, always has; he is also the author of the legendary poem “Taciturn.”

Wikipedia has this to say about lard:

Lard is pig fat in both its rendered and unrendered forms. Lard was commonly used in many cuisines as a cooking fat or shortening, or as a spread similar to butter. Its use in contemporary cuisine has diminished because of health concerns posed by its saturated-fat content and its often negative image; however, many contemporary cooks and bakers favor it over other fats for select uses. The culinary qualities of lard vary somewhat depending on the part of the pig from which the fat was taken and how the lard was processed. Lard is still commonly used to manufacture soap

Lard can be obtained from any part of the pig as long as there is a high concentration of fatty tissue. The highest grade of lard, known as leaf lard, is obtained from the “flare” visceral fat deposit surrounding the kidneys and inside the loin. Leaf lard 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. The next highest grade of lard is obtained from fatback, the hard subcutaneous fat between the back skin and muscle of the pig. The lowest grade (for purposes of rendering into lard) is obtained from the soft caul fat surrounding digestive organs, such as small intestines, though caul fat is often used directly as a wrapping for roasting lean meats or in the manufacture of pâtés.

In the course of looking for an image to accompany this post (and I think I hit the jackpot here, don’t you?), I came across an interesting Slate article that speaks directly to Tom’s point: lard may not be bad for you after all.

I think part of lard’s bad rep may derive from the word “lard,” which just sounds like something fattening and gross. Or maybe I just think that because I know what it is? It would be an interesting scientific experiment to take some non-English-speakers, throw the word “lard” at them, and see how they respond. Or maybe just throw lard at them. Right now I am picturing myself running through the streets of Paris shouting “Lard! Lard!” and hurling chunks of rendered pigfat at fleeing mimes. I might throw in a “You silent motherfuckers!” just for good measure. It sounds like a lot of fun.