Winding down my posts on my trip to Spain, I can’t miss taking a moment to talk about Spanish ham. Ham is pretty much the national food of Spain – ask anyone who has been there and they will tell you that you can find it absolutely everywhere. Spanish ham is dry cured, meaning that it is hung to dry for up to 36 months before it gets to the consumer. It is very thinly sliced (think of prosciutto slices) and has a dry, almost jerky-like texture, although it is so thin that it is not generally chewy like jerky is. The ham is made with a whole pig leg and the feet are left on so that you can identify the type of pig used.
Jamón ibérico is generally the most expensive type of Spanish ham, as it is produced from black Iberian pigs that are native to Spain (the pigs must be at least 75% pure Iberian pig for the ham to fall into this category). The most expensive of all is jamón ibérico de bellota, produced from a type of free-range Iberian pig that feeds on acorns. It is cured for 36 months and they say that you can really taste the sweet and nutty flavor of all those acorns in the meat of the pig.
Up until recently, jamón ibérico was not available at all in the US because of the long dry curing process used to make it, but in late 2008 imports were allow. Still, this ham is hard to find in the US (and expensive if you can get it). Naturally, I had to try some while I was in Spain and it was easy to find. I ended up having mine both plain and in a sandwich (pictured below). I can’t say that I tasted the acorns, but the meat was far more tender than some of the hams I tried in Spain and seemed to have a sweeter and milder flavor. It was worth the few extra Euros that it cost, but as there are so many great hams to taste in Spain, I still think that I’ll have to sample a wider variety on my next trip before coming back to this one so that I can see if I really can pick out those acorn notes!