Entremet: Pata negra is here

Ham smugglers may be soon out of a job. Last week the U.S.D.A. lifted the ban on, as the WSJ calls it, “the world's best and costliest cold cut”. Simply put, Jamon Iberico de Bellota is the Beluga of hams. Raised primarily in the south of Spain, the rare black-footed pigs range loose in oak forests for 60 days, feeding exclusively on sweet acorns. This gives the animal a beautifully marbled meat that produces incomparable flavor. The legs are then cured for up to 4 years. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one.

I drove to Dean & Deluca in Santa Helena to get a few legal slices of Iberico de Bellota. The ham was proudly displayed, like in a museum, showcased as their latest acquisition. The price tag: $150 a pound. After a quick tasting, I left the store with about ¼ lb of shoulder and leg. They have distinct flavors and textures that are worth trying out.

Both cuts are incredibly aromatic and buttery. The luscious fat that ripples through the meat literally melts in your mouth. The shoulder is richer in fat and stronger in taste while the more delicate ham highlights the complexity of its gamy, nutty flavor. Without a question, it’s worth the wait, the drive and the price.

The only drawback, Dean & Deluca cuts the ham on a meat slicer. This may sound normal for most hams, but for this one it’s a sacrilege. In Spain, Iberico de Bellota is hand carved to order, which allows for a better appreciation of the meat’s texture. For hand-sliced ham, you can buy your own 8.5lb leg at approximately $1400 (La Tienda is currently taking $199 deposits); or go to Barcelona and visit Jamonísimo, Ferran Adrià’s favorite purveyor. At the small family-owned store, the best jamon you can get sells for 129 Euros a kilo, or $58/lb less than in the US. That’s practically a steal.

1 comment:

Le laquet said...

I remember Simon and I paying £40 for a starter plate of Pata Negra to share in a cafe in the Basque region of France about 4 years ago. Delicious - I wanted to stab with my fork to make sure I got the last piece :o)