After a week in French wine country, I was ready to head to Barcelona for a change of scenery and to swap excessive amounts of red Burgundy and succulent French foie gras - for Rioja and ham.
Yes, ham. Not the ham of your mom's ham-and-cheese sandwiches, mind you. We're talking about jamon iberico: deliciously cured Spanish ham made from black Iberian pigs in southern Spain.
Today, when visiting Barcelona, there's no better place to try jamon iberico at its best, than Jamonisimo (C/ Provença 85, 08029 Barcelona, Spain). After all, I figured: If it's good enough for powerhouse chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Ferran Adria - chef of the world's top restaurant, El Bulli, near Barcelona - it's good enough for me.
Inside Jamonisimo, full iberico hams hang from the walls, curing and waiting to be tasted. We were greeted by Albert, Jamonisimo's friendly shopkeeper. With my limited Spanish and Albert's limited English, once we finally managed to ask for a tasting plate for 35 EUR, Albert's face lit up. Rubbing his hands together, Albert hustled us into a room in the back of the shop where only two small tables were set up. He brought out a bottle of Rioja, toasted tomatoes on bread, and disappeared to slice us a tasting plate of the best jamon iberico available: jamon iberico de bellota.
Just as Japanese Wagyu is hailed the king of beef and Roquefort the king of cheeses, Jamon Iberico de Belotta is most definitely the king of ham. As native boars to the region, black Iberian pigs have been raised, fed, and cured by Spanish families for hundreds of years.
While there are different grades of jamon iberico, the best of the best are the pigs that are raised in Spain's countryside to roam free and eat a diet of mainly acorns (or, bellota). This kind can cost twice as much as regular jamon iberico.
Once slaughtered, the haunch of the pig (from which we get ham) is covered with salt and hung to cure from 2-4 years. The "readiness" of the ham is tested by inserting a thin piece of bone into the ham to be smelled and tasted by the jamon experts - like Albert.
On a stone slate, Albert brought to our table a tasting of three different cuts of a jamon iberico de belotta: maza, babilla, and punta, from Guijuelo in the Salamanca region of Spain. The verdict? Slices of melt-in-your-mouth fatty, nutty, sweet, velvety jamon - unlike any prosciutto, back bacon, or even Serrano ham you've ever had - absolutely unbelievable.
Only recently imported to Canada in March 2009, jamon iberico and premium bellota, are hard to come by, costing an estimated $300/kg, comparable to $99/pound at Dean & Deluca's in New York City. Your best bet? Make your way to Barcelona.
Share and discuss this story with your friends
Gizelle Lau is a freelance writer & photographer in Toronto, Canada with a passion for food and travel.
Located: Toronto Canada
Likes: cities, culture, food/wine, paths-less-travelled, photography, wildlife