Good Enough for a Marble Worker

Bringing the town of lardo home

I was not raised to diet. A few years ago, my family traveled to an amazing place in Italy called Forte dei Marmi, which means "mountain of marble." In fact, these are the very quarries that supplied the Carrara Michelangelo used to create his masterpieces. But while art enthusiasts make pilgrimages to ponder the exact spot where the marble for the Pietà was cut, we were on a different quest—we were after lardo.

Lardo is salt-cured pork fat, kind of like bacon, but from the back and without the smoke—or the flesh. It also has an herbal taste and aroma, from the rosemary and sage that are rubbed in along with the salt. Our search took us away from Forte dei Marmi, on Tuscany's west coast, and straight up-hill into the whiteness of stone until we reached a shiny, ivory town carved out of the marble. We call it "the town of lardo" but its real name is Colonnata.

It makes perfect sense that Colonnata has a tradition of preserving whatever meat is obtained in the grassy areas below. The creamy-white lardo is cured in the cool recesses of marble for at least six months, then sliced paper-thin and kept cool until its moment of glory. For us, that was the simplest, most common preparation—a few slices draped over grilled bread. By the time it was walked a few steps to our table, the lardo had become softly translucent, disappearing into the bread. It was luscious and flavorful, as fat tends to be, but far more delicate and complex than what we encounter on a steak or chop.

Speaking of steak, our next course involved a much more decadent lardo treatment. We ordered the tagliata (sliced grilled steak over arugula, which wilts and absorbs the juices from the beef). We didn't know it would be veiled in melting lard—honest. Though it seemed unnecessary, we certainly didn't mind. In New York, it's hard to find this delightful indulgence—but not impossible. At Otto, Mario Batali famously topped pizza with it. At Cacio e Pepe, shrimp is wrapped in lardo. Perhaps the best way to experience it without traveling, though, is to purchase some and simply make bruschetta. Traditionally, this was a high calorie snack for marble workers. Fairway sells it for $6.99 a pound, and Salumeria Biellese sells their own to restaurants and at retail (about $6 per pound). You work hard, too.

 
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