Saturday, June 28, 2008
Whether it's prosciutto, serrano or country, ham is one of my favorite things to eat with bubbly. The crisp wine like cava is a perfect foil for the ham's richness. But there's ham and then there's jamon iberico, an unctuous, ultra-expensive Spanish ham that tastes of nuts.
The Food & Wine Classic at Aspen brought my first taste of jamon iberico a couple years ago. Chef Jose Andres was serving deep pink slivers with a smear of soft cheese on a Spanish flatbread. The chef confided that it wasn't available in the US yet, but that he'd brought over a couple legs himself.
It's finally available to the rest of us, now that the U.S. government decided that this ham was OK for import. Jamon iberico, which comes from a special black-haired hog, is still rather rare and pricey. Then there's the crema of the ham world: jamon iberico de bellota. The bellota means the hog ranged freely eating acorns and wild plants, which gives the meat a uniquely sweet and nutty flavor.
Shelling out $12 for 5 little dribbles of iberico at Cesar in Berkeley last week, I was a bit miffed. But the price came into perspective a couple days later at Dean & Deluca in St. Helena. After a funny double-take, I bought considerably less than a quarter pound and knew we'd savor every bite.