This Little Piggie

Daily Press


July 27, 2004

From the front page of The Wall Street Journal: a story about a Spanish gastronomical delight not available in the United States. It costs close to $1,000 for about 15 pounds, and lots of people are plunking down deposits, anxiously awaiting the day when jamón ibérico will be legal in the United States.

From the "it's a small world" files: The company trying to get jamón ibérico stateside - and that has people taking out what the Journal called "ham futures" - is, a Williamsburg-based Web site and family-operated store featuring food from Spain.

What makes the ham so special and so expensive? Don Harris, president of La Tienda, explained: The animals are from a 300-year-old strain of free-range hogs with black hoofs that gorge on acorns grown from a certain tree found only in a certain area of Spain. The curing takes up to three years for each one. And no, it's not like prosciutto, which is saltier, Harris says. "It's the difference between a regular ham you'd get in the States and the best of the best."

But because no slaughterhouse in Spain meets U.S. standards, the ham is on the can't-import-to-the-States list.

The adjectives for this marbled ham with "a rich, nutty flavor" are rhapsodic. The Journal reported that "the ham ranks as a national treasure ... on a par with Italy's truffles and Russia's caviar." An Italian Web site calls jamón ibérico "one of the most esteemed gastronomic jewels in Spain." A company in Spain that offers devotees tours to ham country declares it "the caviar of cured hams."

Supply never meets demand. Harris said a Spanish retailer he knows has a three-year waiting list for customers in Europe.

Still, $1,000 for a ham? Maybe a slice of the good old stuff made at that big pork operation headquartered in Smithfield will do. Not so, fans of the Spanish ham told the Journal, including Americans willing to risk a 10-year jail sentence and up to a $50,000 fine for smuggling jamón ibérico into the country.

Harris and his customers taking out the $199 "ham futures" will wait until it's legal. And if approvals and deals in the works pan out with a Spanish slaughterhouse willing to meet U.S. regs, maybe by 2006 the true believers will be able to claim and taste the caviar of ham.

Copyright © 2004, Daily Press

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