Lardo is one of the most delicious of Italian salumi. It is pork hard back that has been cured with salt and flavoured with herbs, garlic and spices. You can spot it in any good salumeria, the typical Italian delicatessen: it comes in large, squat slabs smothered in salt, pepper and herbs and almost marble white within. Lardo has a sweet, mellow, delicate porky flavor and a melt-in-your mouth, satiny, luscious texture. It should be sliced very thinly and it is best enjoyed on toasted bread, with the lardo just melting a little in contact with the hot, crunchy bread. In Emilia-Romagna it is customarily offered with gnocco fritto and as a part of a salumi board, possibly with some giardiniera; it is equally delicious on grilled polenta. Lardo is also traditionally used to bard birds or joints, to keep them succulent and moist during roasting,
It can also be mashed up into a paste called battuto di lardo and used to enrich soups, roasted potatoes, meat and vegetable dishes: there is actually very little that does not get a boost of flavour with a spoonful of lardo. It must not be confused with lard, which in Italian is called strutto (or sugna, in Souther Italian dialect) and it is used to make the lightest pastry and, once upon a time, to fry – allegedly it makes the crispiest and lightest of fry-ups.
In his book Salumi, Michael Rhulman waxes lyrical about lardo but he mentions only the Tuscan lardo di Colonnata, if I am not mistaken. Lardo is in fact made everywhere in Italy, or at least where a “pork culture” still thrives: for instance in Val d’Aosta there is the equally delicious Lardo d’Arnaud. Calabria and Puglia are two Southern regions where lardo is still produced to high standards.
When I saw lardo at my local Italian delicatessen, I bought a couple of hundred grams: half of it was used to bard a roast, a few slices were enjoyed on toasted bread and some was whipped up to make a battuto which I decided to flavour with garlic, fresh rosemary and black pepper. This has been used lightly spread on bruschette, in minestrone and in a rich tomato sauce.
Battuto di lardo, aglio e rosmarino/whipped lardo with rosemary and garlic
This is not so much a recipe as a guideline. Cut up your lardo and whip it up briefly in the blender until it is reduce to a cream. To this you add the tiniest quantity of puréed garlic (I use a Microplane for this), chopped fresh rosemary and some black pepper to taste. Beware that all these additions should be in the background – you do not want to overpower the delicate, creamy taste of lardo.
Spread thinly on toasted bread or use to enrich soups or to dress plain steamed potatoes.