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Here a Pig, There a Pig
This Independence Day, there’s another freedom to celebrate: the finest Ibérico ham is being released from Spanish captivity and heading for our shores. Jamon Ibérico de bellota is the cured meat of the Black Iberian pig, the ancient breed that roams the forests of southwestern Spain feasting on oak and cork acorns (bellotas). That diet, combined with the salubriousness of unfettered strolling, infuses the ham with a robust, nutty flavor that epicures consider the world’s best. Having gorged on it in Andalusia two summers ago, I’m in.
Technically, the U.S. approved the importation of Ibérico ham in 2005, but there’s a long international waiting list and, besides, there’s no rushing tradition. The pigs must reach a specific weight—between 310 and 330 pounds—prior to slaughter, then the hind legs undergo venerable salting, aging, and drying processes involving sea salt, humidity, mountain air flow, and atmospheric pressure. There’s also temperature control, which, in Old-World vernacular, involves opening windows. After about nine months of this, the Ibérico hams are wheeled into cellars to age for another 18 to 24 months. Top-grade bellotas age for 36.
The result is an epicure’s sensory nirvana: the sweet/salty earthy intensity, the deep-red hue laced with creamy fat, the ethereal silkiness. And tests show Ibérico ham, befitting its Mediterranean pedigree, is healthy, laden with vitamins, minerals, and acorn-derived, bad-cholesterol-busting, monounsaturated fat.
So let’s eat already! Chef Rafael Palomino is carving away at Sonora (179 Rectory St, Port Chester 914-933-0200; sonorany.com), serving jamón Ibérico as a bar tapa with
bruschetta and olive oil, and in an entrée roulade with free-range chicken and manchego. If you want your very own Ibérico ham, the website La Tienda (tienda.com) offers several variations, from hand-cut slices (from a different part of the animal) to boneless legs to the hooves-and-all, bone-in colossus. Just be warned: it’s going to cost you. Both the boneless (about nine pounds) and bone-in (about 15 pounds) jamon Iberico run about $800. And the lofty bellota? First, a $199 deposit—and about $1,400 total. This stratum of pig heaven doesn’t come cheap.
// Diane Weintraub Pohl