Ft. Worth Star Telegram - September 13, 2006
2 High on the hog
In porkdom, the equivalent of Kobe beef would be pork from Spain's legendary Iberico hogs. Up till now, you couldn't even buy it in the U.S.
A breed distinct from the white or pink pigs raised in most of Europe and North America, the Iberico, or black pig, is the holy grail of the ham-obsessed. One such person is author Peter Kaminsky, who explains in his book Pig Perfect (Hyperion, $22) that the Iberico, which roams free in oak-dotted pastures, "represents the way of life and the values of Spain, much as the longhorn steer does in the American image of its past."
At the pinnacle of Iberico pighood are those labeled de bellota, which eat vast quantities of acorns for several months, sometimes gaining a pound a day. "Right after that, the party is over," as Spanish-food importer Don Harris of the Virginia-based La Tienda company puts it, and they are slaughtered -- "in Spain they use the word 'sacrifice'" -- to make the ultimate cured pork.
The Iberico breed has more marbling than the white pig, which makes for superior texture and flavor. The acorns' heart-healthy monounsaturated oleic acid gives the bellota pork high levels of HDL, or good cholesterol.
Iberico products are at last beginning to make their way into the United States, from the first slaughterhouse in Spain built to satisfy the U.S. Department of Agriculture's rules. The fabled hams will come later, because of their long curing time, but Iberico sausages are available at Central Market and online at www.latienda.com.
Central Market has a limited supply of dry-cured bellota sausages made by Fermin, including three types of chorizo (flavored with pimenton, the Spanish smoked paprika) and salchichon, for about $20 to $30 a pound. The salchichon has a deep, intense, complex flavor and black-pepper bite; the chorizo is rich and mouth-coating, with smoky overtones.
The coveted lomo, or dry-cured loin, will not be available in Fort Worth until October, according to Central Market bakery, deli and cheese business development manager Edouard Damez, but is now being sold in the Plano and Dallas stores -- for $89.99 a pound.
Central Market also is selling the first USDA-approved serrano (ham) made from pigs slaughtered in Spain (other serranos sold in the U.S. are slaughtered in other parts of Europe and shipped to Spain for curing and export). Fermin's serrano paleta, made from the shoulder, or foreleg, is not from Iberico hogs, but its sweet, nutty, rich flavor makes it worth the $24.99-a-pound price tag.
At www.latienda.com, the bellota lomo is available, for $97 a pound, but the bellota sausages have already sold out; Harris expects a new shipment in October. Still in stock are non-bellota Iberico sausages, both chorizo and salchicon, for about $44 to $49.50 a pound.