Lardo. Some restaurant-goers can’t get past the name. Some can’t get past the idea. But others never pass up the chance to order this Tuscan inspired pork delicacy.
That’s what’s happening at Andrew Weissman’s new Italian restaurant, Osteria Il Sogno, at the Pearl Brewery, where lardo is on the menu and proving to be a much discussed – and loved – item in the restaurant’s first few weeks of business.
As executive chef Luca Della Casa explains, “The greatest concentration of flavor is in the fat, and that’s what makes this dish so flavorful.”
To carry that thought further, what could be more flavorful than slices of pork fat served over a warm, puffy focaccia with just a whisper of flavored olive oil and rosemary dust? The taste of this epitome of porcine perfection can best be described as a religious experience which, considering the fat and cholesterol, may be forebodingly apt.
But if you think there is a limited market for a dish whose name evokes, and with good reason, “lard,” particularly in a culture which is so outwardly obsessed with avoiding saturated fat, think again. After all, the fear of fat doesn’t seem to dissuade most of us from regularly taking a Supersized dose of fast food along with our Lipitor.
Truth be told, there is something kind of honorable and downright wholesome about a food that openly purports to be exactly what it is – in this case, pure fat. But this isn’t just any run of the mill grasso; lardo is pork fat that has been patiently, lovingly aged for months in sea salt, herbs, and spices; the end result is succulent and flavorful, a dish once appreciated by Italy’s poor, and now, by gourmets the world over.
One of the most famous versions of lardo, il Lardo di Colonnata, has been produced for more than 1,000 years in Colonnata, a town in northern Italy. To make it, slabs of pork fat are stacked in Carerra marble basins (“conca“) that have been rubbed with garlic. Each layer is topped with sea salt, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, bay leaves, sage, rosemary, and more garlic. After a week, water is added to create a brine, the basin is covered, and the lardo is cave-aged for a minimum of 6 months. The resulting delicacy is creamy, savory and unbelievably rich.
In a sense, eating lardo is like eating fugu, the occasionally lethal Japanese pufferfish. It is said that “… only a fool would eat fugu; and only a fool would not eat fugu.”
Lardo presents that same dilemma, being so decadently bad and so irresistibly good. But after all, Il Sogno’s lardo is like falling in love – worth risking your heart for.