THE ONE AND ONLY SPANISH HAM
There’s more to Jamón Ibérico than satisfies the eye. Those ceraceous buttocks that hang over every other bar, from Bilbao to Benalmadena, are not just any kind of old porks. There is a story behind them – an encyclopaedic body of knowledge, a plethora of guidelines and also policies and a variety of abilities and also crafts. The “transcendentally outstanding” (according to Ford, of whom extra below) Spanish Porks stand some contrast with fine glass of wines – for the rigorous demarcation of their areas, for the strenuous methods of manufacturing, the meticulous denomination and category, the quality assurance, the screening as well as the sampling. Jamón is quintessentially Spanish, the item of a special pig on a really unique diet plan. It comes from defined locations in the southwest of Spain, notably the Provinces of Badajoz and also Cáceres in Extremadura, and the Province of Huelva in Andalucía.
Words dehesa, according to my dictionary, indicates pasture or field. In reality it implies something much more poetic. It is that rolling country of abundant winter months grasses and also wild flowers, whereby rounded rocks sometimes swell, and throughout whose area the dwarf oak flourishes, spread at seemingly managed periods. The dehesas of southwest Spain– virtually a million hectares of them – provide a pastoral, practically park-like possibility, sylvan and also welcoming, a proper home for the aristocrat of the hog globe, the Iberian pig. These black and bristly offspring of the Iberian boar take pleasure in an excellent very early life, rooting as well as wallowing on the open dehesas for a year or more, before their appointment with the slaughterman.
Pigs have actually forever been necessary in these parts, even residing in the houses of the farmers in days passed. In the early 1830’s the traveling writer, Richard Ford, recorded: “They return from the woods at night, of their independency, and without a swine’s general. On entering the community, all set off at a complete gallop, like a legion possessed with devils, in a handicap for residence, into which each solitary pig turns, never making a mistake. We have more than once been caught in among these pig-deluges, as well as almost carried away horse and all.”.
The authorities of Extremadura have actually acknowledged the touristic, in addition to the epicurean and also commercial relevance of pork to their location, and also marked a “Course of Pork”, for the pork gastronome and the porcine fanatic alike. It was going to one of the communities on the course, Jerez de los Caballeros, that we satisfied Julio, the technical director of Dehesa de Extremadura, the primary regulating body for Jamón. In this town of time-worn rock, the cradle of many stubbly vanquishers, we spoke pig and also we chatted pork, and also we talked, briefly, concerning the shift of the one to the various other.
This middle bit I will gloss over, since I’m squeamish, but of the pig in the field and the pork on the plate, I am constantly passionate. To witness the previous we loaded right into an auto together with a registered veterinarian called Fernando and headed for a close-by farm, bumping along a drive and undergoing a gate to get here right into the middle of a real dehesa. The dusky porkers flocked around us in a ‘pig-deluge’, grunting contentedly while elevating wet snouts to the vehicle, trembling with interest. Why do they do that? I asked yourself.
” perhaps they rejoice to see us?”, Fernando tried. It was not so much a joke as an instance of incorrect identity. Since, he continued, “They probably puzzle us with the vareadores”. This word was a brand-new one on me, and also it described the rancher who is armed with a lengthy stick to a rope connected to the end. With this easy carry out, the vareadore shakes, flusters as well as whips at the upper branches of the oak, causing bellotas, or acorns to be up to the ground. The pigs go with them like truffle hounds, each eating 8 to 10 kilos a day from late October through to March when they pile-on some 60 percent to their body weight. Rich dehesa yards and rhizomes are on the menu, also. Ford reckoned that the Duke of Arcos additionally fed serpents to his hogs, however it’s the acorns that the pigs like most importantly else. First the fruit of the gall oak, later on that of the ilex as well as, later on in the season, that of the cork oak. These latter generate the most significant acorns as well as Julio grabbed a handful to reveal us. They were each as huge as my thumb and also as shiny as refined mahogany.
After a brief yet obviously happy life the porkers are converted (I attempt not to think about this way too much …) into their constituent cuts of meat, of which the selected hind legs are known as jamones as well as the smaller sized forelegs as paletas. The healing process happens at low temperatures and also it is because of this that the famous pork communities of Spain are all up in capitals, where cool winters may be trusted– areas like Montanchez, Calera de Leon as well as Jerez in Extremadura; Jabugo in Andalucía. Each of the pork communities has a treating plant or more on its fringes, where the freshly-quartered arm or legs are packed in salt and also left for about one day per kilo of its weight. They are removed and cleaned in fresh water before moving to a drying room, where they are hung for 35-60 days at a temperature between 3-6 levels centigrade. Next they spend 6-18 months maturing as well as curing in a warmer bodega. Throughout, temperature, ventilation as well as family member moisture are carefully regulated. In the later stages, porks are evaluated for firmness, as well as a sharp ox-bone is periodically placed and withdrawn to be based on olfactory screening by the controller. He has the practised feeling of smell of wine-taster and also will award each pork its deserved title. From here the hams will usually spend a long time resting in a bar before being functioned as raciones or tapas. Or they may be covered entire in coloured paper and also distributed for Xmas.
Porks make a popular as well as very welcome present in Spanish families. They are also the subject of many concursos or competitors, both for the high qualities of the hams themselves as well as for the skills of the treating supervisors. The slicers, also, obtain their possibility of short lived celebrity. Invariably men and dressed in regulation waistcoat as well as bow tie, they line up for the cams and the courts, a clamp safeguarding their pork from which they sculpt paper-thin with a rapier-like sword.
The labels of verification to look for are ‘Dehesa de Extremadura’ or ‘Jamón de Huelva’. The most effective hams are those of pure Iberian pigs eaten a diet of acorns These will certainly bear a red label reading jamón Ibérico de bellota that guarantees the most succulent, scrumptious and aromatic of hams as well as the highest cost by far. Following comes Jamón Ibérico de recebo, complied with in coming down order by– de campo. These are also excellent yet from pigs elevated on a diet regimen only partly of acorns. There are a number of preferred false impressions to look out for. Jamón Serrano is the much less excellent family member, derived from white pigs that are typically intensively raised. Porks called after famous communities like Montanchez and Jabugo, or after the much fancied black trotter or negra hog are very little more than trade names– they may be terrific, or they might be detached. It’s the Ibérico in the name that’s very important, as well as the highest possible honor of bellota, or acorn-fed.
While rise and also deforestation have actually wreaked havoc with delicate farming ecological communities across much of Europe over the last fifty years, the ongoing popularity of premium quality, premium-priced jamón has actually made certain that the one-of-a-kind Spanish dehesa landscapes have actually endured fairly uninjured. In this noteworthy success of preservation, the Iberian pig has actually played an unintentional though brave function.
THIS POST FIRST APPEARED IN LIVING SPAIN MAGAZINE, A UK MONTHLY.