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Mar 7, 2012 05:50 PM

fats used for cooking


I am hoping you can provide some insight for me. I am currently living with two Italian friends - one from just outside Rome and the other from Abruzzo. They often distinguish their own practices from common American practices with generalities such as "We don't eat butter with bread." with "We" meaning the general Italian population.

To be honest, it can be frustrating. I try to approach our discussions with an open mind but am often shot down with sweeping "we" statements spoken on behalf of the Italian people.. These discussions usually center around practices which I imagine are common throughout the world.

For example, the consumption of blood. I imagine that throughout the world, in any culture that slaughters large animals such as cows and pigs, the blood is consumed in some form as there's a great deal of it. "Gross. We don't do that in Italy." Really? I know perhaps it may not be as common (such as in America today) but perhaps during traditional/rural/agrarian times?

So what I am really curious about it my friends' most recent comment about my jar of saved bacon grease. I imagine that around the world, saving rendered grease is probably pretty common. My friend's argument was that "we" mostly use oil and since we don't cook as "fatty" there is no grease to be saved. And it wouldn't be saved anyway because our cooking is less "fatty".

I don't pretend to know the cooking habits around the world or of Italy or specifically of Abruzzo. I just thought if I am a humble farmer or worker and a pig I roast renders a lot of fat while roasting, I would save that and use it for something else.

Thoughts? Does anyone know if it is common practice to save rendered fat? How might it be used?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  1. Very interesting points!
    Ok, i live in Rome, here are my observations. Definitely not meant to be sweepingly true.
    First re: blood: i have to challenge your belief, not only for italy. In turkey, for example (or any islamic culture), blood is considered not edible, and although there is a great deal of slaughtering, never any use of the blood. Actually it is one of the rules of slaughtering (halal) that blood completely runs out during the procedure, otherwise even the meat is not edible. Let alone the blood. I am not too sure, but i seem to remember similar rule exists in judaism as well. So that eliminates a lot of people eating animals but not using the blood.
    In catholic Italy there is no such religious rule, but when i stop and think, i can't ever remember seeing and eating a blood sausage in italy, as opposed to Germany or spain, where it one of my favorite sausages. I definitely have no explanation for this, but it is like that. Am sure there are some places/ people who make it, but not a generally existent item.
    Re: bacon grease. Haven't ever seen that either, in the form that you describe (frying bacon and then collecting it). There is a lot of bacon grease in solid form - guanciale, pancetta etc that has been conserved by drying/salting/smoking. You use these as flavorings during cooking, the grease they give off remains in the dish. Then there is strutto, which is lard, in the supermarkets, so it has been rendered somewhere at one point. But don't ever remember anyone roasting/frying a fatty piece of pork and then collecting and reusing that grease.
    So, these were my two cents.
    But i do hear you when you report your frustration re: your italian friends making sweeping generalizations! ;)

    3 Replies
    1. re: vinoroma

      thanks for your reply. i didn't know that about halal and kosher rules. I wonder what is done with the blood that's drained. Can it be used to feed other animals?

      1. re: seamunky

        My guess = blood meal, used in farming and gardening. No doubt there are others.

        1. re: seamunky

          well, it does, but it shouldn't - remember mad cow disease? I realized I didn't know what happens with the blood during the halal slaughter, so researched a bit on Turkish sites. Looks like majority just goes down the drain (figuratively, it needs to be disposed off properly), but some is also used as a base for medical uses, like producing serums etc.

      2. This may get moved to a different board, but until that happens, I'll be happy to start what I'm sure is going to be a long thread.

        Your friends are both correct and full of it. Your pig-farmer instincts are correct. Pork fat has a major place in traditional Italian cooking. However, I don't know of anyone keeping jars of rendered fat. To my knowledge, the solid (cured) fat is rendered as needed and used up all in one go. Much of the olive oil and extra virgin olive oil in use today would, in the old days, have been some form of pork fat -- lardo, guanciale, etc. Last night I personally consumed a perfectly delicious bowl of pasta alla gricia, utterly delish, utterly pork fat (and sheep cheese). Your friends are from the right part of the country to know this dish, so when they get on their high horse about fat, ask them how their mothers make l'amatriciana or la gricia, for heaven's sake.

        As for the blood, they may be young and ignorant, but anybody who eats non-kosher meat is eating blood, but beyond that, pig's blood is most certainly used on its own as an ingredient. Ask them what they think sanguinaccio is made of. It seems to me I recently read something about chicken blood, but I think I repressed it.

        Italians eat butter with bread for breakfast, not at other meals, although nowadays it is fashionable to (a) serve butter in fancy restaurants and paradoxically (b) act like butter is some kind of poison. Many sauces and other dishes use butter, and Italian butter is excellent.

        Nevertheless, it is true that for Italians the American diet certainly seems to contain a great deal of fat. I would (unscientifically) guess that gram for gram Italians eat about the same amount of fat, but probably better fats, and generally rely less on processed foods than Americans, and definitely have smaller portions, but the differences between the two systems is a topic I'm not ready to get into.

        3 Replies
        1. re: mbfant

          I agree on everything (sanguinaccio chocolate ice cream used to be my fav ice cream flavor) except....Italian butter is not really that great. Only few small productions are worth mentioning (Occelli i.e.). I love butter and whenever I decide to indulge, I'll go...France!

          1. re: cristinab

            I was actually thinking of Occelli.

          2. re: mbfant

            thanks for your reply. i looked up sanguinaccio and it's intriguing! Is the blood mostly used as a thickener?

            I've also just learned about biroldo and mustardela which use pork blood also.

          3. Ha ha ha. Wow, your friends are uptight. On the other hand, there is probably something lost in the translation. They probably think by using the word "we", it is less personal. So they probably try to say that they are not eat your bread with butter not because it is their own personal choice, but rather something cultural. Maybe like a Japanese telling you that he is taking off his shoes when entering your house because it is how he was raised.

            Anyway, I do know in many countries, the animal's blood was first drained as much as possible. We in US stopped doing this because we think it is cruel. I know some Chinese told me the same thing -- that the animal blood was drained in China.

            As for rendered fat.... it is sort of the opposite for Chinese. You would intentionally cut and saved the UN-rendered fat from the meat and used it for cooking, but you would have much to save afterward.

            In term of the rendered fat from roasting a pig. I know we use white bread to soak up the rendered fat while eating barbecue pork. -- and consume it.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Thanks for your reply. I'm a bit confused by this:

              "Anyway, I do know in many countries, the animal's blood was first drained as much as possible. We in US stopped doing this because we think it is cruel."

              Does this mean that in the U.S. the animal is butchered without letting out the blood? Isn't this a bit messy? In countries that do drain, how is it done? Does this mean that the animal is allowed to bleed to death by a small cut in its neck?


              1. re: seamunky

                I may be wrong about this. :) It is just some rumors I read.

                1. re: seamunky

                  for halal slaughtering, yes, the animal is killed by a throat cut and then hang up to drain all blood from the veins. only then does it get butchered.

              2. Your friends are certainly superior to us silly Americans.

                Beyond this, butter is eaten in northern Italy, as I understand it. Pork is certainly eaten in Italy, which would include the fat in the pork.

                Blood is really not that commonly eaten in the US - I'm not sure why this is an issue.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sandylc

                  hahaha. . .they mean the best. the only issue was me hoping to shut them up after seeing me save bacon grease and them remarking "we don't do that."

                  It got me thinking, "Really? Nowhere in Italy does someone save the grease for later use? You roast a pig and don't save the grease to roast potatoes or something else?"

                  I originally posted on the Italy board hoping someone there would say, "I live in such and such and every house in my province has a precious venerated jar for holding lard. It's been passed down for generations and has the highest honor amidst the kitchen."

                  Just so I can tell my roommates, rather immaturely, "Ha! Got you!"