On suet and tallow and why Wikipedia doesn’t get it
It’s the way of most things today (oh shit, I’m really starting to sound like a curmudgeon), but in this case it’s true. An entry in Wikipedia becomes the reference point for an article and then that article is used for the next one and on and on it goes. One erroneous statement perpetuated into affinity with the original source long gone.
I find this happening a lot in North America with our broken link to our traditional homes and cultures. We’re all a bunch of orphans here, scrabbling together what food traditions we can mixed with hearty doses of commercialization and commodification to fill in the gaps.
What I’m trying to say, in my typical rambling offering, is that suet is not raw tallow and tallow is not cooked suet. They’re two different things. Gasp! We’re in the “upside down”. I know, Wikipedia says different. But guess what, my grandmother said different and so did her mother and her’s. My ancient cookbooks say different, too. I believe them and I believe my experience. There have traditionally been deliberate distinctions made between suet and tallow for a reason.
Suet and tallow – both fat from beef. Both can be rendered or raw. Suet is the fat from around the kidneys. It is a precious fat, unique from the tallow which is fat found around muscle on the rest of the animal. Suet is specifically called for in old recipes for puddings and pastries because of its higher melting point, due to its high levels of specific fatty acids, and its ability to add moisture without making dishes heavy as a brick.
Tallow is now used ubiquitously to describe rendered beef fat from anywhere on the animal. It’s akin to labelling all rendered pork fat as “lard”. Most home cooks still know that there is a clear distinction between leaf lard (fat from around the kidneys in pigs, as suet is from cattle), back fat, and caul fat.
Different fats for different uses! What beautiful gifts these animals give us. It’s our job to honour those unique gifts as best we can.
So why the distinction and who cares?
Well, I suppose I care because with lost language goes lost knowledge and connection. How many of us even know these things anymore when a mere 100 years ago or so, our great grandmothers would gasp at our lack of prowess in the kitchen. I want to keep these things alive and excavate what we’ve lost to the avalanche of convenience. Mostly, I want to eat the best food possible and that comes with knowing my food.
In the picture, a beautiful example of the lovely, soft, grass finished suet of one of our cattle and, in the next picture, another example from a friend’s grass finished steer on the grasslands of Alberta. And then a gorgeous kidney that is encased in suet. Lastly, pictures of me rendering tallow separately from suet so I can preserve the unique properties of the more delicate suet for uses where I’m looking for less “bam!” more “hello, beautiful”.
Whatever beef fat you eat from grass fed animals is a win for that hot bod of yours. Let’s just keep what tidbits we have left from the centuries of the ancestral wisdom we’ve lost. Yes?
p.s. Other than old cookbooks and grandmother wisdom, you can find so much good stuff on beef fat at the Weston A. Price Foundation website, at #slowdownfarmsteadgoodfats, and I found this fantastic article for you, but Instagram won’t let me direct link, but you can find it at savoringthepast.net “Suet: what it is, what it isn’t”.