Monday, 5 September 2011

The case of the missing lard

With the last of a block of lard shrinking gradually, and a very real danger of running out altogether, action was needed.

There’s only one place locally that I’ve been able to buy lard, in one of my close-by grocers. But in the last month or so, they don’t seem to have had any in.

Finally, with the proprietor back from holiday, I was able to check when they would have some in.

There is, it seems, a problem. From what I could gather, trade publication Independent Retail Magazine had carried some sort of item on the subject a number of weeks ago, which was linked to difficulties in getting/supplying the stuff.

The reason, apparently, was that it’s ‘unhealthy’.

Now I’m long enough in the tooth, sceptical enough and a good enough hackette not to simply accept this as gospel – although I do trust my source.

Google, of course, is your friend. So I looked up Independent Retail Magazine and searched that.

A big fat (lardy) nothing.

Metaphorically donning the old deerstalker, I rang the editorial desk. A very helpful gentleman took my call. He couldn’t remember anything, but asked in the office.

Nobody could recall specifics, but it “rang a bell”.

I looked at The Grocer too, but to no obvious avail – although there was plenty of other food for thought.

Via an advert, according to Unilever, those friends of the government and the public health, customers decide to buy a spread – “ie butter, healthy spreads” – “depending on their attitudes to taste and health”.

Don't you just love rocket science?

Now I can’t answer for anyone else, but personally, I choose on the basis of both criteria – hence butter every time. But note that, to Unilever, butter is not healthy.

The myths about fats are widespread even in the retail trade press. In The Grocer, a columnist talked about “calorie porn” in an article that also seemed to believe that we “mortals” had no chance of recreating actual recipes from a TV programme.

And, of course, it enabled a throwaway comment about one dish “looking as healthy as a lard enema”. Because lard is inherently unhealthy.

Mind, you get the feeling that The Grocer really does it have in for poor old lard. In a regular column, one Titania Touché had penned a few comments about producers’ covert attempts to decrease package sizes, while still retaining the same price.

All well and good, but in the context of this, the writer – who understandably is so ashamed of themselves that they hide behind the name of a Shakespearean fairy – notes: “As the momentum behind teeny tiny groceries grows, so our Calories Don’t Count campaign, a covert initiative for long-standing client United Lard, is hitting its stride.

“The Express out-Mailed the Mail this week by reporting that dieting gives you cancer. A fine fillip for the fuller lard-fuelled figure.”

The “lard-fuelled” figure. Because lard, as we know, is the reason behind rising obesity.

Now it strikes me that there are a few possible explanations for all this.

One is because however much some researchers have realised the counterproductive nature of dietery advice on fats (and complex carbohydrates), it really has not sunk through to most of the rest of the populace – including those linked to the food industry itself.

But would it also be entirely cynical of me to point out that lard is considerably cheaper than any of the other fats out there? The one pack available from Ocado, for instance, is just 40p for a standard 250g.

With profitable markets among both foodies for butter and those thinking it’s a healthy choice for marg, both of these have the opportunity for greater profit, particularly in the top ranges – be that for gourmet butters or, say, margarines that have felt the whisper of an olive, thus allowing producers to market them in such a way as to suggest a direct link it to the wonderfully healthy Mediterranean diet.

I am presently no closer to finding out why small retailers are having difficulties getting hold of lard. But I won’t be giving up.

Later, I made the first turbigo of the season: kidneys and sausages, with button mushrooms and baby onions in a velvety sauce of butter and flour and sherry, with beef stock and tomato purée, that becomes richer than ever during the cooking thanks to the kidneys.


As I cooked, I found myself musing on how well it would work using lard at the base. As you brown the meats in butter first, you often have to clean out the pan and melt more butter before browning the onions and starting to cook the mushrooms, because the butter has started to burn.

Unfortunately, that loses a lot of the flavours. But lard is a wonderful cooking fat precisely because it doesn’t burn.

Since you make the sauce by mixing the flour and sherry, before adding the purée and stock, you don’t have to worry about the butter making a roux.

However, since my supply of lard is currently so shrunken, that experiment is on hold.

But have no fear – the lard detective is on the case.


  1. I always use real butter and I think lard is wonderful. Despite the dodgy heart I refuse to give them up.