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Lardo is a unique cured pork product produced in Italy. It is made from the thick layer of fat directly below the skin of a pig; the fat is carefully removed and cured in salt and spices so that it can be stored for extended periods of time. At one point, lardo was treated as the poor man's food in Italy, and it was widely disdained. That opinion has since changed, and lardo is now considered a delicacy by many Italians.
This cut of meat is one among a family of cured meats called salumi in Italian. Salumi should not be confused with salami, a specific type of sausage. Most salumi is made from pork, although other meats are used as well, and it illustrates a living tradition of cured meats produced with techniques which are centuries old. Some types of salumi are protected with the assistance of government decrees to ensure that they are made in the traditional way.
Fat is notoriously difficult to cure, since it can become rancid when handled poorly. The first stage in the curing of lardo is cutting a number of small holes into the fat and rubbing and salt and spice blend into the holes. The meat is kept at a stable temperature while it cures, and it may also be smoked to make lardone. Once the meat is cured, it can be packaged for sale; most people keep their lardo under refrigeration to minimize the risk of spoilage.
Classically, lardo is offered as part of an antipasto platter. In some parts of Italy, thin shavings of lardo are served plain as an appetizer, while in other regions lardo may be spread on bread or mixed into salads. It can also be used in main courses; it may be tossed with pasta, for example, or used in stuffings. Some people use lardo as a replacement for meats like pancetta and bacon, leading some cooks to refer to lardo as “Italian bacon.”
Although one might imagine that cured fat would be greasy and heavy, this is not the case with lardo. This salumi has a very mild, creamy flavor, and while it is rich, it is not greasy. The delicate flavor can be easily altered with additions to the spicing, and some regions of Italy have become rightly famous for their lardo. Lardo di Colonnata from Tuscany is probably one of the most famous types of lardo.