Ham, Pastrami, and Turkey (1 of 3).

Humans have been husbanding pigs for 11,000 years (Cati– for only two [rimshot]).  Some pigs are apparently bred for size; others more so for flavor.  The most flavorful ham I have ever tasted is jamón ibérico de bellota from Spain.  There is jamón serrano, pata negra, jamón de jabugo, jamón dulce, jamón cocido, etc.  If you’re from Spain, these classifications might be simple to figure out, but if you’re a guiri* like me, it can be confusing. 

Let me help; let’s start at the top.  Iberian pigs are indigenous to areas near the Mediterranean Sea.  They are black, hairless pigs that have a high intramuscular fat content.  The high-end ham is called “jamón ibérico” or “pata negra” (black hoof).  There are three general subclassifications of jamón ibérico (in descending order of quality and price):

  • jamón ibérico de bellota: Acorn-fed, cured 36 months.
  • jamón ibérico de recebo: Grain-fed, finished on acorns, cured 24-36 months.
  • jamón ibérico de pienso: Grain-fed, cured 24 months. 

Free-range, acorn-raised, jamón ibérico de bellota from Jabugo is considered the best of the best (often rated “cinco j’s,” although I’m not sure by whom; perhaps the Spanish version of the USDA).  “De bellota” designates that these pigs are raised on a diet of nothing but rich and nutritious acorns from a variety of oak trees (primarily cork oaks) in Southwestern Spain.  These pigs are truly “free range” and spend their lives foraging for acorns.  Each pig eats as much as 20 lbs of acorns per day.  Producing this type of ham in any other country is problematic when you consider that more than 100,000 sqft of acorn-yielding oak forest (called la dehesa) is required per pig.  The exercise and diet has a significant impact on the flavor of the meat.  The ham is cured in salt brine; never cooked.  Jamón of this caliber is typically eaten all by itself, as thin slices, from a plate or you could make one heck of a sandwich with it.  Jamón ibérico de bellota recently became available in the U.S. from tienda.com for $96-162/lb.  For this reason it’s more common to have this ham at high-end parties or around the holidays rather than everyday.  Below are some jamón photos I have taken through the years.  Note the ruby red color.  I wish there were a way to communicate the oily, salty, nutty, flavors and dense texture via photos, but alas, you’ll have to try it:


I’m not the only one who really likes this stuff; here’s a cute Mac spoof ad for iJam:

Down a peg on the quality scale from the jamón ibérico is the prosciutto-like jamón serrano (mountain ham).  Jamón serrano comes from white Landrace pigs that are grain-fed; it’s also known as jamón reserva, jamón curado and jamón extra.  This ham is cured by hanging the brine-treated legs in drying sheds (secaderos) that are usually built at higher elevations (hence the name, “mountain ham”).  Jamón serrano is available locally at EATS in Stuyvesant plaza.  Buy a bottle of Marques de Riscal from Empire Wine, Delaware Plaza Wine & Liquor, or Niskayuna Wines and Liquors; buy some marcona almonds, and a hunk of manchego from the Honest Weight Food Co-op, and you’re all set for a Spanish picnic. 

Last, and possibly least, there is jamón cocido.  This is the boiled pink ham that we all know from “and cheese” fame.  Good, but not nearly on par with the oily, salty, nutty flavors of its upscale cousins. 

Oh yeah, Cati and I saw The Police** play at SPAC this past Friday.  They played all their hits.  Stuart Copeland stole the show.  Andy Summers looked every bit of his 65 years.  Sting’s biggest fan is Sting.  And it’s true; you really can’t go back again.  It was fun all the same.

Also, Cati and I were trying to figure out how to use the Babybjorn we received as a gift for our forthcoming baby (thanks, Ruth) and we needed a test subject.  Looks like we missed the arm-holes– probably because we were giggling like school kids and taking pictures of poor Nacho.  

Next up– pastrami.

*They don’t use the word “gringo” in Spain; they call us non-Spanish white-westerners “guiris.”  It’s not even derogatory really; it’s just a generalization– like “yuppie,” for example. 

**The fact that the musical group The Police is mentioned in a post about ham is purely coincidental.  We in no way intend to employ or endorse the application of a porcine moniker to law enforcement officers.  We love cops– a lot.  And, in the future, if we should ever be pulled over for exceeding the speed limit (say, in Malta or Bethlehem), a warning is punishment enough.  We are REALLY hard on ourselves; fines and court appearances are nothing compared to the shame and guilt afforded by a stern warning.  ;)

5 Responses to “Ham, Pastrami, and Turkey (1 of 3).”

  1. Albany Jane says:

    Excellent creative use of the baby carrier. I think I’ll also have to take up that fine idea of having a Spanish picnic!

  2. Lydia says:

    This is what patanegratapas.com says about jamon Iberico de bellota:
    “…………..much of the jamon’s fat is comprised of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol.” What an added benefit?!!!!!! Love the stuff. Can only afford a serving at a time.

  3. Lydia says:

    Oops! Forgot to mention Nacho. He is just too cute. He doesn’t seem to mind that you guys enjoy putting him in undog like situations. Actually, he seems quite content. Babybjorn may not be easily used by your baby. Nacho has first dibs on it.

  4. Gina says:

    I’m sure Nacho won’t mind being “bjorned” if you feed him some of that ham.

  5. Nicole says:

    I was googling some images from 677 prime and it led me to your site. It is so great! My husband and I have wanted to start a blog, mainly to track our own obsession with food. I will definitely start it now that I have seen yours! Great job and very interesting perspective!