Sunday, February 19, 2012

This Little Piggy

Iberico de bellota carefully hand sliced at Borough Market, London
There are only a few foods that I'll passionately seek out when I'm on the road: ice cream from Bertillon in Paris, sushi at the Tsukiji market in Tokyo, mangosteens in SE Asia, and iberico de bellota whenever in Europe.  

It's a hard call, but that last one, iberico de bellota, just might be the best thing I've ever tasted.

From the the Boston Globe...
It weighs 13 pounds, glistens with fat, and is capped by a dramatic black hoof.

It's a ham, but not just any ham. This is jamon iberico de bellota, the be-all-and-end-all, Rolls Royce, ne plus ultra of hams: one that positively demands a party.

Jamon iberico's cult following stems in part from its mystique: nearly unattainable, dearly expensive.

Its provenance adds to that; the ham comes from pigs that are as coddled as the cattle that become Kobe beef. The pigs roam free, feasting on acorns ("bellotas" in Spanish). "They live in pig paradise," says Harris. "They grow up as a gang together for two years, then when it's time for them to meet their maker, they play them Mozart. After Mozart, they go to bed for the night. I don't know if they're tucked in. The next morning they get hot showers, then some mysterious carbon dioxide enters their atmosphere and they go off to piggy heaven." This is referred to not as slaughtering the pigs, but as sacrificing them. The hams then cure for up to four years in clean mountain air.

The piggy spa treatment takes place for a practical reason. "They want them very mellow," Harris says. "If they're scared, they produce epinephrine. If they're not stressed, the meat is fine. I'm not saying the ham people are pig lovers. They're meat lovers."

The main reason bellota ham is so coveted, of course, is its flavor. "It's very meaty, rich, marbled with fat," writes Andres. "Jamon iberico is the finest ham in the world. It is a ham that will ruin you for other hams."
Fine swine indeed.

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