Men's Journal - May 31, 2012
Spain's Luxury Ham
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota
Bacon-of-the month clubs; pork belly at corner bistros. It's never been a finer time for pig-loving gourmands, even if some say the "bacon revolution" is over. Luckily, a few years ago,stateside devotees of Spanish delicacies finally received a gift that they have desired for centuries: jamón ibérico de bellota. The rarest form of Spain's best cured ham, bellota ("acorn," in Spanish), which is oak-y in color, complex in flavor, and lined with silky fat, comes from the acorn-fed, black-footed pigs whose ancestors have roamed the Iberian peninsula's oak-tree pastures since pre-Roman times. It's so good we only blink a few times when we see this stuff's $180-per-pound price, and we often prefer it to Parma prosciutto, at least on special occasions.
How'd it make its way to our tables? In 1995, Spanish company Embutidos Fermín finally built a slaughterhouse to meet tough USDA specs, and the first marbleized, three-year-aged bellotas hit our shores around the year-end holidays in 2008. Since then, the jamón's become more popular in high-end Spanish restaurants, but it remains under the radar, especially for the 99 percent.
"Think of it as a luxury, like caviar," says tapas godfather Jose Andres, who serves the product on hollow "air bread" at his jamón bar in Beverly Hills's The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel. "Initially, people didn't think there was interest," Andres adds. "Plus this jamón requires an investment of time and money to open new markets." And to meet U.S. import requirements.
Meanwhile, La Tienda sells bellota to anyone in combinations as affordable as $29 for slices (four ounces) to $1,250 for whole hams that can serve up to 50 people. The good news? You needn't worry about a recipe. "Let the pure flavors speak for themselves," says Andres. "Thinly sliced on its own, it's perfect. Or, combine it with another luxury, like caviar, rolling the ham into a caviar cigar. Ideal surf and turf." [From $29; tienda.com]
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