Lardo for lunch

23:40, May 20 2012

Last week, one of the key enablers of my food obsession, Shaun Clouston, injured head chef at Logan Brown, asked me the question "have you tried Mr Scheck's lardo yet?"

By which he meant the new Italian lardo at On Trays Food Emporium in Petone. I had not, at that stage. I was a bit scared, actually.

Lardo. A type of Italian charcuterie made by curing strips of fatback with rosemary and spices. Slivers of meltingly soft cured and flavoured pork fat. It seemed obscenely decadent, and, well, lardy. Now, I am not afraid of fat, per se, in the slightest - a good band of fat around the edge of a steak or pork chop makes it much easier to cook it until it is succulent, juicy and tasty. But to just eat strips of fat seemed like utter debauchery - next step, wearing tracksuit pants and slippers out of the house.

So, when I returned from work on Saturday, Plus One had been round to On Trays to collect a cheesy birthday present for a friend's birthday. "Oh, there's a package there from Mr Scheck too - lardo, or something?"

Oh God - I had been given the thing I most desired... and most feared. Feared that I would love it too much. Feared that its consumption would necessitate my wearing tracksuit pants in public.

Or, worse yet, what if I hated it? Having been told how superb it was by someone whose opinion I trust, and been gifted some of it by someone else I respect, imagine if I had to tell them both "umm, not really my bag. Too... fatty?" I would look like a fool. And a lightweight. And a wowser.

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Last Monday I was at home, and in need of a bite of lunch. I peeled open the familiar wrapper and inspected the contents of the tray. There were a couple of layers of thinly sliced white-opaque slivers of meltingly soft fat. Oh dear. Oh gosh. How do they even cut something so delicate so thinly?

Mr Scheckter had suggested, via P1, that I try the lardo atop some toast. I popped a couple of slices of Vogels into the toaster, and then sliced them diagonally into triangles. I dressed each piece of toast with a generous strip of lardo, a few leaves of wild rocket, half a cherry tomato, a squeeze of lemon and a grind of black pepper.

Please be delicious, I bade the plate of fancy, fat-laden toast. Please don't make me look like a chump in front of my knowledgeable friends. Please?

Oh God. Wow. It's quite salty. It doesn't actually taste all that lardy. It is so... soft! It has virtually dissolved into the toast. The rocket, tomato and lemon cut right through the soft, porky, fatty goodness. It is delicious, and savoury, and rich. The fat carries the flavour of the rosemary and spices strongly. Salty, sticky, slippery, flavoursome. It is divine.

And then, almost instantly, it registers. I feel my pulse racing. I feel kinda zingy. I feel kinda high. Whoa! Not meat sweats, exactly, but certainly a pretty intense flavour and instantaneous effect. And all from just four tiny, wafer-thin slivers of lardo.

I take a little to my place of work and offer some to the old curmudgeon and would-be supertaster Bill Moss. He declines. "Uh uh," he shakes his head, "eating fat is the taste of death." Well, without pointing out the glaringly obvious (that fat, like meat, comes from an animal that is, um, dead), this is a marvellously tasty way of using something that may otherwise go to waste. It ties in with my idea of using as much of a slaughtered animal as is possible. And it does so in a quite delicious and unusual way.

I like it. The sense of relief that I do is palpable. I won't have to make excuses to Shaun and Mr Scheckter, my kindly benefactors. My taste faculties are all intact. I know delicious when I taste it, even if it is something I wasn't sure about. It is not something you could, or should, be eating all day, every day. Nor is it something you could eat in any kind of considerable volume. Just the thought of eating it makes my pulse rise, just a little...

Have you tried lardo? What did you think? Would you like to try it, or is eating strips of cured fat a bridge too far?

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