Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Pata Negra

The black pig. Jamón Ibérico.

If you've read Peter Kaminsky's book Pig Perfect (and if you haven't, you should) then you'll know that Jamón Ibérico is the pinnacle that all other ham aspires to. It's produced only in particular regions in Spain, from one particular type of pig, and that pig must be raised in a particular fashion. In the period just prior to their slaughter, they feed only on acorns, which gives their fat a unique flavor and texture - and, strangely enough, makes the fat unsaturated! That's right - the king of ham is good for you.

Until very recently, Jamón Ibérico was not available in the US. But finally some Spanish producers have received permission from the US government to export their goods. Here's a website that's offering a wide range of Ibérico products. Beginning this month, Zingerman's Deli has joined the small group of vendors offering Iberico for sale. At this point, they "only" have three kinds of cured products available - chorizo, sauccison, and lomo (cured pork loin). They hope to have the actual ham in a few months.

According to this Wikipedia page, "Jamón ibérico only accounts for about 5% of Spain's cured-ham production, so it is very expensive." Very expensive is kind of an understatement. The two sausages Zingerman's is selling retail for $50 per pound. The lomo is even more expensive - a princely $100 per pound!

It is to Zingerman's credit that they are not letting those prices hold them back from pressing samples of pata negra on practically every customer who walks in the door! So I've managed to taste a number of slices of the lomo. Is it worth $100 per pound? Hard to say. It's intensely marbled - beyond marbled, in fact, the meat is downright speckled with fat. The flavor is subtle and smooth and sublime. It almost melts in your mouth. And fortunately, a little goes a long way - $10 worth of lomo would give you a lot of satisfaction without breaking the bank. The six paper thin slices shown above cost me $3 - a worthwhile expense for a treat to thank my husband for staying home with our two year old while I went out to Zingerman's to taste olive oils and vinegars (but more on that in another post).

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