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Oak fungus

Posted December 16, 2007

I just read this article from the London Telegraph, and will check with Antonio Gázquez at the U of Extremadura. This would be quite an unanticipated blow, as the Dehesa is a vital part of the Iberico ham process. 

Oak fungus threatens Spain's finest ham

Last Updated: 2:03am GMT 16/12/2007

It is Spain's most famous - and possibly most expensive - export. But now Jamon Iberico puro, or pure Iberian ham, which gets diners around the world salivating despite price tags of up to £1,000 for a whole leg, is under threat.

Acorns, the staple diet of the thoroughbred pigs used to produce the ham, are in short supply due to the rapid spread of a fungus that has been linked to climate change.

Researchers at the universities of Cordoba and Huelva say the fungus, Phytophthora cinnamomi, is affecting areas of Spain where Jamon Iberico puro and Jamon Bellota, the other Rolls Royce of the porcine produce world, are made.
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Fuelled by drought, the fungus is killing up to 190,000 trees, or 10,000 acres of forest, annually.

José Luis García-Palacios, president of the Spanish Oak Tree Forum, said: "At this rate, our great-grandchildren will not know what an oak tree is."

Iberian pigs are reared among oak trees. The acorns enrich their body fat with oleic acid to make it healthier - and tastier. The meat is cured for up to 36 months before being served at prices of up to £80 a pound.

"This is a grave situation," said one producer, Manuel Maldonado. "Some farms have lost 10 per cent of their trees and to replace them takes 30 years."

Alberto Chicote, chef at the Nodo restaurant in Madrid which serves pure Iberian ham, said: "We hope they can do something before it gets any more serious. This is one of Spain's star products."

An economist, Ramon Tamanes, warned that the situation could dent not only Spain's pride but also its profits.

"It would be tragic if we were deprived of a sector of our industry which is also part of our national identity," he said.

Exports of the ham to Europe alone are worth £43 million a year to the Spanish economy.