Also known as “Pata Negra”. In Vancouver, the closest I had ever come to tasting such a thing would have been the italian Prociutto that was sooo good and seemed as expensive as beluga caviar …
My arrival in France was in Bayonne, home of the famous “Jambon de Bayonne” (amongst other things). I liked it, but as soon as I got my first taste of “Serrano ham” accross the border in Spain, I tasted the difference immediately.
The black Iberian pig lives primarily in the south and southwest parts of Spain. We now prefer to buy even more local breeds here in France mostly small farms in the hills of the basque country, but we do break down and buy a bit of the good quality Spanish stuff…
Immediately after weaning, the piglets are fattened on barley and corn for several weeks. The pigs are then allowed to roam in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns, and roots, until the slaughtering time approaches. At that point, the diet may be strictly limited to olives or acorns for the best quality jamón ibérico.
The hams are salted and left to begin drying for two weeks, after which they are rinsed and left to dry for another four to six weeks. The curing process then takes at least twelve months, although some producers cure their jamones ibéricos for up to 48 months.
In the part of Spain that we frequent, the usual decor in the bars in whole hams hanging from the rafters above your head with triangular plastic cups to catch any drippings on a warm summer day. My friend Lisa is still getting over the lack of refrigeration in Europe compared to North America (AND europe and europeans have been around for some time now)….
During my last trip to Spain, I thought I would buy some lovely ham to take to a party that very night. Waiting my turn in the shop, I managed to reserve a vacume packed ham bone (thinking pea soup) and told Sylvain to use his “perfect spanish” to ask for the ham hock that the lady in front of us seemed to get “thrown in” for free.
The ham man, was terribly sorry that he had no end bits left, but thought he had something even better ! He disappears under the counter and pops back up with…… A ham HOOF ! Yes the bottom bit of the leg bone, with residual meat, hair and the hoof intact. He was really smiling, so we thought this must be a great honour. He wrapped it in a bit of paper and we walked out with our hoof in hand, walked through the center of Bilbao, took the tram etc….. with absolutely no one blinking an eye.
So the said HOOF is still in our fridge waiting for Sylvain to find the appropriate tool to cut it into small enough pieces to fit in the freezer….. Pea soup recipe to follow 🙂