Directly translated to fat, lardo is a cured meat made from the raw, lardy back of a pig. The fat is cut into rectangular pieces and packed into large vats for salting and curing. Herbs, garlic and pepper are placed between each layer and the meat is left to soak for three months to a year.
Anthimus, the first medieval writer to discuss dietary science, dedicates a large portion of his treatise, “On Right Pleasure” to lard. While pork meat is so moist that it cannot be preserved without a great deal of salt, the fat of the pig surpasses all other animals. Pork fat was the fat of choice in the Middle Ages. Olive, walnut, and poppyseed oils were only used in salads as a substitute for pork fat on days of abstinence and during Lent. The fourteenth-century Liber de Coquina called for lard in a quarter of its recipes. In the words of the scholar Odile Redon, “the aroma of pork fat pervades all of medieval cooking.”
Today, the most famous preparation of lardo is lardo di Colonatta, seasoned with pepper, cinnamon, whole cloves and rosemary. Traditionally, it’s served thinly sliced over country bread as an antipasto, though it’s also used in cooking.
The city of Merano in the Val Venosta of Alto Adige, has a long and proud tradition of salumi-making. The city is particularly well known for the smoked, cured ham known as speck. Because the area is ground zero for speck production, fat back is readily available, making Merano a lesser known but equally exciting source for lardo.