Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rendering tallow

Soap has been made with tallow and lard (beef and pig fat) for as long as soapmaking has been around. While I wouldn't want to give up plant oils, like olive and coconut, there are qualities in animal fat that can't be duplicated by plant oils. Last week I thought I would try my hand at rendering, the process of purifying fat, separating it from all the other "junk." I was able to get some nice big chunks of beef fat from a local butcher shop.
This is 11 pounds of fat. I chopped it up into small chunks and put it in the biggest stock pot I have, which isn't enormous. I didn't want to risk burning it so I only used about half the fat that I had for this batch. I decided that this way, I could test the whole process without getting overwhelmed.
To keep the fat from burning and stinking up the house (rendering's reputation) I added water to the pot. I didn't want to risk the water evaporating, so I added a lot--probably more water than I had fat. Here is the fat in my pot after it had been cooking for some time.
I cooked it for several hours and it never stunk. If I leaned over the pot I noticed a slight greasy smell, as if I were making beef stock and hadn't added any herbs to it. The chunks of fat grew smaller and smaller. Eventually I noticed they weren't shrinking any more, so I decided to strain it. I ran the liquid through a strainer, then cheesecloth, adding more layers every time until I was sure that it was OK. Soap with little bits of liver or membrane would be a turn off! So I did this five times just to make sure. :-) The picture above is the cereal bowl of the icky stuff that I strained out.

I washed out the pot and poured the strained fat/water mixture back into it and put it in the fridge overnight. The next morning was like Christmas (well, sort of) experiment had worked! The tallow had separated from the water, hardened, and was pure white. I chopped it in half to get it out, as you can see in the above picture. I scraped the scum (which I had been told would be there) off one half and you can see the other, unscraped half in the background.
So approximately 6# of fat produced tallow that weighed in at almost 3#. I'm pleased with how it turned out and I am anxious to try it out in soap.

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