Hog Heaven

US Airways Magazine


September 5, 2008

A Spanish delicacy finally makes its way Stateside.
Bill Citara

Standing at the very pinnacle of pork, jamón ibérico- the salt- and air-cured, mahogany-colored, immensely flavored ham from Spain- has until last December only been available to Americans lucky (and wise) enough to sample it on its own turf.

What makes jamón ibérico special begins with the pata negra (“black-hoof”) pig, a rare species related to the wild boar whose origins are thought to go back to prehistory. For much of their lives, these pigs forage the oak forests of Spain’s Iberian Peninsula, eating a diet rich in acorns. It’s the pig’s diet and a curing and aging process lasting two to four years that largely determine the succulence of the hams. The best grade is jamón ibérico de bellota; ribbed with luscious fat, it has a deeply savory, nutty-tasting meat that practically dissolves in the mouth.

Of course, the best doesn’t come cheap. Prices vary with the seller and quantity purchased, but expect to pay upwards of $100 a pound for jamón ibérico de bellota paleta (from the smaller front leg) and $150 and up for jamón ibérico de bellota (from the larger back leg). Other ibérico hams are less expensive and, while not as rich as the premium grades, are still worth savoring. Purveyors latienda.com, markys.com, and jamon.com carry a variety of cuts.

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