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Local Fat

Garth Brown |

On occasion both Garth and I have been known to praise Simon Fairlie's book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance. For anyone interested in homesteading/permaculture/sustainability/food production, it deserves a place on the bookshelf. In several chapters he points out that vegetable seed oils are thoroughly modern creations. In the grand scheme of things cottonseed and rapeseed oil are newcomers to the human diet. That's not to say humans never ate seed oils, obviously we have done so for as long as we've been eating seeds, i.e. as long as we've been humans, but we used to eat them as part and parcel to the seed. Newness lies with the method of consumption. We now press and then extract oils, often with powerful solvents and refine them into a "pure" state. It is a wonder to me that for decades people blithely accepted these industrially processed oils as "healthy" alternatives to the fats we've thrived on for ever.

What are the old, thrive-inducing fats? In cold landlocked parts of the world (like here) they invariably come from animals. In Edmund's hierarchy of very local fat, lard and butterfat rise to the top and the type of cooking determines which wins out for a given dish. From here on out it in my year long challenge it looks like the lard supply will be adequate to meet my cooking needs, phew. Tallow and chicken fat reside down a notch lower, and at the bottom of the ladder lies deer fat. In case you haven't had the chance to sample it, deer fat (deer tallow?) is downright gross. It is difficulty to wash off of anything, coats the inside of the mouth, carries strange, often unpleasant flavor, and has mealy texture unless it is warm enough to be liquefied. Beef tallow could be described in much the same manner, but it seems milder on all counts. There are other possibilities - bear, raccoon, groundhog, sheep, etc. Lacking direct experience, I don't know where to place them in my list.

I suspect the reason I like lard and butter so much has to do with the degree of saturation and the length of the fat molecules therein. Lard is significantly less saturated than fats from ruminants, and I think butter is too, though I'm less certain of it. I do know butter from grass-fed cows has less saturated fat than that from confined animals. Melting point is often a reasonably good proxy for saturation of hydrocarbons and both lard and butter melt at lower temperatures than tallows. I suppose chicken fat meets these criteria, but something about its flavor makes it a hard sell in many cases...

One idea Garth and I have kicked around a little bit is to refine "olive" oil out of pig fat. Lard is relatively rich in oleic acid so I'm sure we could do it, but I doubt we'll try. For one thing, it would put us on the slippery slope of industrialization and processing I just derided a few paragraphs ago. For another it would demand more effort and time than we're willing to invest. We're getting busier as spring creeps into place here. Another reason to scare me off is the potential flavor oddities. I like the way lard tastes in most applications, but I am not confident that pig oil would be great on a pile of fresh-from-the-garden lettuce. And finally, Judge Hodgman ruled that we could split a large bottle of olive oil for the year. One large retail jug ought to be enough to get us a lot of the way through salad season. If you, dear readers, demand otherwise I'm willing to reconsider and take a crack at it though. Even a spectacular fail would make for a good blog post 😉


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