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Vignette > Hides and Tallow


Spanish missionaries brought cattle to Marin in the early 19th century. In 1838 William Richardson acquired Rancho Sausalito. The 1847 census showed that he had 2800 head of cattle. Ranches throughout California produced hides and beef tallow to meet the global demand for both. Hides were stripped from slaughtered cattle and dried in the sun making them stiff as a board, ready for tanneries producing leather goods.  Carcass fat was rendered to produce beef tallow. Rendering involves slowly melting a large quantity of fat, removing the impurities that float to the top, filtering the molten fat and letting it solidify into bricks. The photo is of a large rendering facility at the historic mission near Lompoc. Tallow was used locally in various ways such as lubricating axles in horse drawn vehicles.  Most of the tallow was exported for use in candles, soap and cooking oil. It was a staple in kitchens along with lard rendered from pig fat. McDonald’s fried their delicious French fries in beef tallow until 1990 when a public campaign against saturated fat resulted in a switch to vegetable oil.

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