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Think of Spain and, particularly if you have travelled around the country, you will most probably think of delicious, cured jamón Ibérico – Spain’s best ham. Thinly sliced it’s greatly prized as a gourmet food across the country. While its merits are continually lauded, it’s extremely easy to find – most bars and restaurants will have it on the menu as a tapa, vacuum packs of ready-to-eat slices are sold in supermarkets, and all Spanish markets will have a good selection ready to be sliced on the spot.

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Jamón Ibérico is produced solely from the black Iberian pig, and the breeding of the animals is restricted to Extremadura – a ruggedly beautiful area in Southwestern Spain. Although fed some cereals, these pigs also roam the countryside and feed freely on the acorns they find on the ground. The curing process of the rear legs lasts from 14 to 36 months making for a much more refined product with a unique taste.

Jamón Ibérico is such a treasured food that that it has its own Denomination of Origin. As with all Denominations of Origin products, there is strict control of the quality. For example, in order to carry the name Jamón de Extremadura, the regulations control every stage of the process including the following. The pigs must be black Iberian pigs, be fed only cereals and grains from the local region before being released into the open countryside to graze on the local acorns, be of a certain weight when slaughtered, and finally the hams must spend at least14 months curing.

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Jamón Ibérico is best eaten unembellished and at room temperature. Ideally it is cut into paper-thin slices which are then picked up with the fingers and popped into the mouth. The only decision remaining is what beverage to serve with the delicacy. Many say that a glass of chilled fino sherry is the best. Others prefer a glass of young red wine – a tinto crianza. Both wines help bring out the richness of the ham.

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Carrasco Guijuelo 2

One of the best jamón Ibéricos comes from the pigs on the farms of Carrasco, Guijuelo in Extremadura. The first-class product is then cured in Salamanca and is available in gourmet food shops all over Spain and via the internet. More information at http://www.carrascoguijuelo.eu