The $1,300 Easter ham

The Wall Street Journal


March 22, 2013

Big Spender: Meet the jamon that’s “marbled beyond all others”
Charles Passy

The pitch

Talk about splurging on an Easter feast. At La Tienda, a Virginia-based online purveyor of products from Spain, the holiday ham is taken to new heights. That’s because the retailer offers one of the widest selections of Ibérico hams — the special and superexpensive variety that is sourced from a unique, black-colored breed of pig that roams the south and southwest regions of Spain and is then dry-cured for up to four years.

La Tienda’s priciest Ibérico is the Bellota one, made from free-range, acorn-fed pork; a bone-in, 15-pound ham runs $1,290. “It’s on par with caviar or truffles,” says La Tienda CEO Tim Harris.

The $3,300 Easter ham with a Spanish accent
Charles Passy joins Lunch Break with a look at Ibérico ham from Spain. The top of the line ham costs around $1,200, but with all the special carving utensils it can add up to $3,000. Photo: Getty

But you can’t truly enjoy a ham — or a Jamón, to be more precise — without the proper accessories, adds Harris. Start with the Jamónero, the Spanish-style ham holder that keeps the meat in place while you slice. At La Tienda, the top-of-the-line version — made from a hardwood sourced “from the forests of the Ivory Coast and Nigeria” and complemented with “a stainless-steel cradle clamp” and silicone cutting board — costs $1,260.

Add to that a “professional” Jamón carving set ($697) with four forged knives (“each with a different purpose”) and a chain mail glove (to “protect your hand while it grips and steadies the ham”). Oh, and don’t forget the Jamón serving pincers ($47.50) — essentially, tongs that help you avoid “grasping at the ham with your bare hands.”

Add it all up and you’ve got a pricey package of pork and accessories that totals nearly $3,300. And that’s not including bread, wine or cheese — all typical accompaniments for the proper Spanish spread.

The reality

Ask any gourmet or culinary professional and they’ll tell you that Ibérico is indeed the ham of kings. “I have tasted innumerable types of ham, from every corner of the globe, and Ibérico stands out as my favorite, a ham that is marbled beyond all others — and as we know, fat equals flavor,” says Paul Anders, executive chef at Sweet Basil and Mountain Standard, two acclaimed eateries in Vail, Colo.

But those same folks will also tell you that there are plenty of lower-cost alternatives that come close to the mark, including dry-cured hams from Italy (prosciutto di Parma), France (Jambon de Bayonne) and even Spain (Serrano). In other words, Ibérico may be great, but for many ham shoppers, it’s as much about the status as the taste — and the pricey accessories play into that idea. “If you’re one of those types of people who fixate on a name, Ibérico is what you’re going to pay for,” says Rolf Baumann, the chef at Lobel’s Kitchen, a gourmet New York emporium. (Baumann’s favorite reasonably priced ham? The European variety known as speck, which can easily be found for around $20 per lb.)

Just as important: Even if you love Ibérico ham, you’re probably not going to make it the centerpiece of your Easter meal. European-style dry-cured hams are more typically served as appetizers — or as a small bite (they’re typically sliced very thin) to enjoy with a good glass of vino.

None of these points are necessarily disputed by La Tienda. Which is why the retailer offers much cheaper ham options, including Serrano ones (a 16- to 18-pound, bone-in version runs $325). And if you still insist on Ibérico, there’s no reason to go for the whole hog — La Tienda sells packages of presliced Ibérico for as little as $25 (three ounces). As for those accessories, La Tienda offers ham-cutting knives starting at $42 (chain mail glove not included) and ham holders starting at $56.50. And for a ham that’s better suited for the traditional holiday table, the company has introduced a different style of Ibérico — one that’s not been dry cured over a period of years, but that’s been smoked (La Tienda has partnership with Virginia’s famed Edwards smokehouse). A ready-to-bake one, weighing 4.5 pounds, sells for $249.

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