“Iberian ham beats caviar, foie gras and truffles”

Iberian ham has a secret: unami. It pairs better with cava or champagne, and it is better to eat it freshly cut. These are some of the keys that the ham tuner Manuel López reveals to the newspaper La Vanguardia that we reproduce below.

How many hams have you cut in your life?
Three a day for 25 years... some 27,000 hams! Shall I cut you a slice of this Iberian leg?

Why do I like Iberian so much?
because it has umami

What is “umami”?
The fifth flavor. It was discovered by a japanese researcher studying a certain alga.

Describe that flavor to me.
Beyond salty, sweet, bitter and acid, it is addictive... try this ham!

Hmmm...
It is a unique, singular, different flavour: we have a gastronomic treasure!

What ham did you just give me?
A slice (very well cut) of Iberian ham of the highest quality.

How is a slice well cut?
Very fine cut. And short. So that it fits whole in the mouth and its fat melts… What a great sin not to cut a great ham well!

What do you mean by "excellent quality"?
That of the ham from an Iberian breed pig raised in pastures, castrated, which has eaten grass and acorns, which has run and trotted, slaughtered at the right time (January is the best month), and whose leg has been salted, consolidated , dried in a drying room and matured in the cellar in the precise conditions...

And not all Iberian ham is like that?
No, because there is Iberico de recebo ham (dehesa, acorn... and completed with feed), there is Iberico de cebo de campo (field, without acorn and only feed) and there is Iberico de cebo ham (stabled and only feed).

Is there a difference between one and the other?
Of course! For this reason, the great distinction between Iberico ham de dehesa and industrial Iberico ham should be specified by law.

How is excellent quality achieved?
Raise an Iberian pig in a pasture, among oaks, that eats only grass and acorns, slaughter it at the right time and cure it in the perfect conditions. That's what I dedicate myself to!

To what exactly?
I supervise and select the best pieces.

Is that what it is to be a “ham tuner”?
In France there is a "cheese refiner" that guides the curing of cheeses to obtain optimal pieces... I do that with the legs of Iberian ham, and that is how I obtain the optimal ones.

And how many legs does it acquire per year?
About four thousand, for my establishment and to export to my partner in Japan.

Is Iberian ham known abroad?
Little yet, but as soon as they try it, their faces change, they are amazed!

Another slice, please...
Take… Iberico ham beats the three gastronomic pearls: caviar, foie gras and truffle.

argue it
It surpasses them for its superior nuances of flavors and for its nutritional qualities.

Is Iberian ham very nutritious?
It is a food with many B vitamins and antioxidants. Its fat stores oleic acid, extra virgin olive oil, which preserves our arteries. This quality distinguishes Iberian ham from other hams such as serrano, prosciutto.

Is this due to the breed of the pig?
Yes, a native pig breed with genetics that infiltrate the fat into the meat, making it so tasty! That fat absorbs and stores the essences of everything the pig eats.

Yes? Is the acorn noticeable in the taste?
Of course! And if there are cork oaks, that note of flavor is distinguished. And of the aromatic bushes. Once I tasted a ham and I noticed the thyme! He had eaten too much.

Where does your work as a “ham refiner” begin?
I locate the small farmers who raise their Iberian pigs with care, and the artisan dryers who treat the curing of their hams with great care.

Are not the majority who do so?
A fifth of the 500,000 Iberian ham legs per year (on average). And here I go: I feel the legs, guide their curing… I have felt and cut so many hams since I was 14 years old that I know which one will be very good!

What are the denominations of origin of Iberian ham?
There are four: Huelva, Guijuelo, Dehesa de Extremadura and Valle de los Pedroches.

Which of them is your favorite ham?
It depends… the one from Huelva (the Jabugo brand is there) has shades of dried fruit; that of Guijuelo, sweeter tones, of toasted sugar. The Extremadura is an intermediate.

How do you advise me to eat good Iberian ham?
freshly cut Picking it up with your fingers. And you don't need anything else: ham is gastronomy's golden bachelor! According to Arzak.

And what do I drink to accompany it?
What pairs best is a glass of cava, which refreshes the mouth. Or a glass of Fino or Manzanilla, a great geographical pairing. Red wine, on the other hand… commands too much in the mouth: it does not pair well with Iberian ham!

What part of the leg is your favorite?
Due to its high intensity of flavor, I like the ham that is at the tip of the leg that touches the hip bone.

What are those little white dots that I sometimes see on the meat of the ham?
Crystallized amino acids great!

Which ham is the best you remember having tasted in your entire life?
I was 15 years old, I went hiking with friends, we stopped to eat in the woods, I took out my homemade ham sandwich and… and I still have not forgotten that fabulous joy!

Posted by Vanguard
April 12, 2012
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