Ft. Worth Star Telegram - December 19, 2007
Spain cures ham craving
The arrival of Spanish Iberico hams to this country has been breathlessly awaited by epicures, serious porkophiles, Spanish-food devotees and status-obsessed foodies -- and the first hams have arrived at last.
These hams come from a special breed of hogs, the Iberico, also called pata negra (black-footed), and are produced by the first slaughterhouse in Spain built to satisfy the U.S. Department of Agriculture's rules. They're not the holy grail of hamdom, the Iberico de bellota, from hogs that graze on acorns for several months, but they are the closest thing. They're from the same breed of hogs, just slaughtered earlier, giving them less time to gorge on acorns.
The Iberico pigs' meat has more marbling than the meat of American breeds does, for superior flavor and texture, and the acorns they eat boost their levels of heart-healthy monounsaturated oleic acid.
Central Market received its first shipment of the Iberico ham last week and is slicing the boneless ham to order for $99.99 a pound.
Spanish-food importer Don Harris of the Virginia-based La Tienda company is selling the whole hams only. He says his first shipment of hams was presold, but buyers can get on the list for the next shipment at www.latienda.com (800-710-4304); the company also has a new Web site, www.jamon.com, dedicated entirely to Spanish ham.
La Tienda is selling the bone-in hams, which have the hoof attached, for $52 a pound, around $800 a ham (Harris says you need a special stand and knife to manage the bone-in ham). Boneless hams are $87 a pound, around $750 a ham, plus shipping.
The top-of-the-line Iberico de bellota hams, for which La Tienda's waiting list now stands at 300, won't arrive until sometime next summer and will run about $1,500 at La Tienda. But by the end of the month, both Central Market and La Tienda will have paleta of bellota -- shoulder, from the front leg, which is smaller than the back-leg ham and thus takes less time to cure -- at a price to be determined.
Amy Culbertson is the Star-Telegram food editor, 817-390-7421.