Saturday, June 28, 2008

The World's Most Luxurious Ham

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.

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