Monday, 18 March 2013

Pigging out

No matter hoI make decisions to cut back on red meat and quit pork altogether, they never last here in Spain. They do like their pork around here.

So, when ever I return to Finland my suitcase, stuffed with chorizo, fuet, jamón iberico, paleta curada, pate jamón and longazina, smells like an Aberdeen abattoir.

During my first ever trip to Spain I was puzzled by the tennis racket-shaped bags the tourists carried around - I had always though golf was the game du rigueur in Costa. An incident involving an absent-minded passenger finally shed some light into the mystery:  they didn't contain rackets of any kind but legs of pork!

Spain's biggest contribution to the gourmands everywhere is that very ham. Spain is not just the biggest producer in the world, it's also the biggest consumer of this delicacy: the annual consumption is around 5 kilos per person. Even the local IKEAs offer - in addition to the classic (horse?)meatballs - serrano ham stuffed baguettes.

Kosher and halal dietary restrictions have often been explained with disease caused by Trichinella spiralis- parasite that can be found in uncooked pork meat. Iberico breed on the other hand is clean of this pest.

When The Gentleman first bought the house it was still work in progress and kitchen for instance was a far cry from what it is today. There were no appliances (hell- we didn't even have hot water!) but in the middle of the kitchen island there was a contraption consisting of two metal pieces. After a while of bewildered staring we were told it was a ham stand - claro que si!

In the Andalusia region the hams from Jabugo are widely considered the best. In the shops one can see two types of legs: paletas, which are the front legs, and jamóns, the back legs.

Paleta will set you back around €20. The prices for Serrano start around €50 and for iberico around €80.

Jamón Serrano is the "ordinary" cured ham. Jamón Iberico, also known as pata negra, is the ham from the black hooved iberico piggies.

Just like fine wines, this delicacy has its own Denominations of Origin. The supervising authorities dictate, that ham sold as iberico must be at least 75% iberico breed. The finest of the finest is iberico de bellota, pigs fed solely acorns (and occasionally lavender). The price per kilo for this treat can go into hundreds of euros.

As the ham cures and dries, liquid (fat) seeps out and during this process which takes months, the weight can drop to half of the initial weight. The ageing process then continues in the back rooms of bodegas and cocinas and just like men from Manchester, they only get better with time. 

The fat fanatics need not worry about the white fat trimming around the edges of the ham. I just read somewhere (10 hour flights have their perks- one really has no choice but to catch up on reading...) that as a result of the curing process the fat left in the ham is actually the good, polyunsaturated kind. So, get HAMmered!

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