The lard bread at Freelance Pizza

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.

Lard bread is finally making its way down to Philadelphia — or that’s the plan, anyway. Sometimes called prosciutto bread or ciccioli bread, it’s long been a popular snack in Italian American neighborhoods around Brooklyn and North Jersey.

Despite Philly’s strong Italian American heritage, lard bread isn’t really a thing here. Yet.

I have fond memories of weekends noshing on loaves from Mazzola Bakery and Caputo’s Bake Shop when I lived in that other city. When I moved to South Philly six years ago, I was sure I could find a new go-to. But when I ask around, I’m met with confusing stares. People respond with their own question: “What the heck is lard bread?”

Don’t let the term “lard” scare you. Picture a stromboli, formed into a long roll or a ring, its dough studded with bits of prosciutto, salami, or maybe pepperoni. Rolled between the layers is lard and provolone. There’s also usually a ton of cracked black pepper throughout, for that final kick. The end result is an easy-eating, pull-apart loaf full of melty, gooey deliciousness.

Could this pork-stuffed treat join tomato pie, hoagies, and soft pretzels as a Philadelphia bread staple? I teamed with Billy Penn to challenge four local pizza makers to study up and bake their own versions.

The results were pretty fantastic — check out a recap (and a recipe) below.

WHYY’s You Oughta Know came along to shoot video, so you can watch the fun we had at Freelance Pizza, Pizza Plus West, Down North Pizza, and Pizza Jawn for yourself.

YouTube video

Also! You can try three lard bread variations in person during this weekend’s #LardBreadPHL crawl (RSVP here), and even win a $25 gift card to each spot. Scroll down for all the details.

Freelance Pizza

A Comcast staffer by day, Dave Quaile gives new meaning to pizza aficionados. Not only is his South Philly rowhome covered in memorabilia, but he’s known to give out free pies to people who swing by. He also hosts pop-ups at spots around the city, like Rally and Ortlieb’s.

Over the past two years, Quaile has spent his spare time recipe-testing local favorites like tomato pie, focaccia, square pies — and now lard bread. For this challenge, he turned to memories of Sunday dinners at his grandma’s house.

“I had a vague memory of a round peppery bread with big chunks of prosciutto… and it all came back to me,” Quaile recalled.

His take is a firm, ring-shaped dough that’s slightly twisted to seal in a handful of prosciutto cubes and black pepper, with fat and butter brushed over the top for a crust with a good bit of crunch. Coming up with the right results took testing out a “surprising” amount of temperatures and resting times he said.

When his parents heard about the project, he baked another loaf just for them. After trying it myself, I’m confident lard bread will be Freelance Pizza’s next cult hit.

Dave Quaile of Freelance Pizza with his ring lard bread Credit: You Oughta Know / WHYY

Pizza Plus West

First was Pizza Gutt, operating from the back of W/N W/N coffee bar, then came a Kensington storefront called Circles and Squares, and now Pizza Plus is here to stay, with locations in South and West Philly.

The man behind this growing pizza empire is Daniel Gutter, who has racked up accolades from carb-loving Philadelphians.

When it comes to lard bread, Pizza Plus West chef and co-owner Will Zavareei said he was “surprised to see so many recipes and techniques” while researching online. Ultimately, he decided to use the shop’s signature Detroit-style pan dough.

Taking a bite out of this round boy requires two hands and plenty of napkins. Diced pepperoni and provolone are folded into the dough, which includes a few pours of Dale’s Pale Ale for bonus fermented flavors. On top is a hefty ladle of sweet tomato sauce, sliced prosciutto, fresh basil, parmesan, black pepper, and the sleeper hit: a drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey.

With a burnt cheese crust rounding out the entire pie, this lard bread “prosciutto pizza” is more than just a snack — it’s a meal. “It’s dense and rich and flavourful all on its own,” said Zavareei. I couldn’t agree more.

Lard bread ‘prosciutto pie’ at Pizza Plus West Credit: You Oughta Know / WHYY

Down North Pizza

The pizza is as great as the mission at this one-year-old Strawberry Mansion shop and everyone from The Inquirer to the New York Times to Bon Appetit agrees.

Chef Michael Carter is passionate about cooking for the people, and about working with people who deserve a second chance. As he dishes out some of the best square pizza in the city, he trains and mentors the staff, which is made up of formerly incarcerated people.

To take on the lard bread, Carter brought an additional challenge: the restaurant uses only halal meat.

No pork? No problem. Carter created a pull-apart loaf out of Yuengling-enhanced dough strewn with bits of beef bacon and beef pepperoni, plus chunks of smoked gouda and cheddar. He served the loaf with a side of housemade spicy garlic dipping sauce — which he said he’d learned was “big in Italian bakeries at the turn of last century.”

Carter was pleased with the results. “The beef pepperoni and beef bacon compliment the smokiness of the cheeses,” he said. “After this challenge, I’m not opposed to baking anything into bread!”

This version would be a huge hit at your next Eagles watch party, perfect for sharing with best buds.

Chef Michael Carter and author Alisha Miranda pull apart the non-pork lard bread at Down North Pizza Credit: You Oughta Know / WHYY

Pizza Jawn

David Lee has studied from the best to perfect his pizza-making skills. Inspired by Paulie Gee’s transition into a beloved pizzaiolo, he got Joe Beddia to train him. After launching a successful mobile business, he opened a storefront on Main Street in Manayunk, and the take-out spot has earned critical acclaim.

After some intense lard bread research, Lee chose an approach that’s historically more traditional. Taking inspiration from nearby Marchiano’s Bakery, one of his local spots, his long seeded loaf starts with multi-day fermented Italian bread dough and then gets stuffed with smoked bacon and Cooper Sharp cheese.

Lee took the project a step further, asking neighbor chef Reuben “Big Rube” Harley of Pitchers Pub to create a custom “Baby Mama Pepper Relish” dipping sauce.

The combo is hard to put down, as the bread is miraculously light, the cheese perfectly melted, and the dipping sauce the best of spicy and tangy.

Chef David Lee carries loaves of lard bread at Pizza Jawn Credit: You Oughta Know / WHYY

#LardBreadPHL food crawl and contest

Want to try these for yourself? Think lard bread can take off in Philly? Join me and Billy Penn for the first-ever Philadelphia lard bread crawl.

This Saturday and Sunday only — or until we clamor for more — Pizza Plus West, Down North Pizza, and Pizza Jawn are putting their lard bread on the menu, so you can stop by and try a slice. (Or a whole pie. Or a bacon, egg, and cheese on a lard bread roll. Yeah.)

Post a pic of your dish on social media using #lardbreadphl, and you’ll be entered to win a $25 gift card from each spot.

Supplies are limited, so check the hours below, and let us know who your favorite is.

Down North Pizza

2804 W Lehigh Ave., Strawberry Mansion

Sat. Oct 16 and Sun. Oct 17
12 p.m. till sell out

$5 per order (includes 3 slices)
Walk-ins welcome; not available for online ordering

Pizza Plus West

4814 Spruce St., Walnut Hill

Sat. Oct 16 and Sun. Oct 17
11 a..m. till 9 p.m. or sell out

Lard bread “prosciutto pizza” whole pie $22
Available for online ordering; walk-ins welcome

Pizza Jawn

4330 Main St., Manayunk

2 to 8 p.m. Sat. Oct 16
9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sun. Oct 17

Lard bread roll only $7
Cheesesteak on lard bread roll $15
Bacon, egg, and cheese on a lard bread roll $15 (Sunday only)
Walk-ins welcome

Down North Pizza’s beef version of lard bread Credit: You Oughta Know / WHYY

Lard bread recipe

Want to cook your own lard bread at home? Try Freelance Pizza’s recipe below.

370g bread flour (2 ¾ cups)
16g sugar (1 tbsp)
3g yeast (¾ tsp)
3g salt (¾ tsp)
8g cracked black pepper (1¼ tsp)
230g warm water (plus 1 cup)
½ lb cubed or sliced prosciutto (cubed rules, so try to do that)
3 tsp melted butter or lard (or 1½ tsp of each)

Tip: use a mixer to knead or mix the dough, if that’s accessible.

Combine flour, salt, and pepper in a big mixing bowl. In a second bowl, combine water, sugar, and yeast and let the yeast bloom until it looks like a murky lake.

Using a mixer or rubber spatula, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until all of the flour is incorporated.

Knead the newly formed dough for 6 minutes. Add prosciutto and knead for an additional 5 minutes. Cover the dough ball with a damp towel, take a much-needed 20-minute rest, and marvel at your newly-beefy arm muscles.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface. Create a 20-inch cylinder, and twist the ends of the dough in opposite directions to give your loaf some nice crispy texture on the exterior. Once it’s looking nice and twisted, pull each end together to shape the loaf into a ring.

Wet the ends with water to ensure they stick together.

Set dough on a piece of parchment and cover for 1 hour to rise. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450°.

In an oven-safe dish, put 1 cup of water on the bottom-most rack. Brush your loaf with 1 tsp of butter, lard, or combination, and bake on the middle rack for 15 minutes at 450°.

Rotate loaf 180°, brush with butter and bake for 5 more minutes at 450°. Then, lower the oven temperature to 400° and bake for 10 additional minutes.

Once done, let the dough rest for a few minutes in the open oven.

Remove the dough from the oven and brush one last time with a butter/lard combo. Let it get just cool enough that it doesn’t burn off your face when you dive in.

Chef David Lee carries loaves of lard bread at Pizza Jawn Credit: You Oughta Know / WHYY

Alisha Miranda is a food and travel writer based in Philadelphia. Her stories have been featured in The Inquirer, Thrillist, and Edible Philly, among others. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram...