Hmm, well, yes, Spanish ham

There’s a reason why the pork in Portugal is often surprisingly good.

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has confused jamón ibérico, the prized Spanish ham, with run-of-the-mill jamón serrano in a gaffe on a par with a French politician referring to a fine burgundy as plonk.

Speaking at the centuries-old livestock fair in Zafra in Extremadura, western Spain, Sánchez left his audience open-mouthed when he told them “you can be sure that when the Chinese president visited Spain he would have been served a plate of jamón serrano from Extremadura”.

Extremadura is the cradle of jamón ibérico, a delicacy capable of throwing Spaniards of all political persuasions into a gastronomic swoon. The local farmers’ association said it had dispatched some to Madrid to educate Sánchez, lest he once again cast his swine before pearls.

Yep, OK.

The finest version of the ham, jamón ibérico bellota, is made from Iberian blackfoot pigs, or from 50% crossbreeds, which spend the last months of their lives roaming the dehesa – oakland pasture – feeding on grass and acorns.

Once slaughtered, the legs are plunged into vats of salt and hung and dry-cured over a range of temperatures for a minimum of 36 months. The best jamones are cured for around four years.

Quite so. Not that pigs eat very much grass, obviously, but the rootle around in it, certainly. And the type of oak we’re talking about, not England’s majestics, but the much smaller cork oak – the same things that produce cork, obviously.

The thing being this ecosystem extends across into Portugal. In fact, overs much of the southern half of it.

More recently a company was caught selling “Spanish” ham that had in fact originated in Poland.

Well, quite.

So, the black pigs that the stuff comes from, possibly bred but certainly fattened in Portugal. And slaughtered. The legs go off to Spain to be cured. But this leaves lots of lovely free range, acorn fed, black pig porkshiousness to be consumed locally.

Where it is. One cut being “secretos” which is a particular few slices off the belly. Scrummy. And most butcher’s counters will have a separate section of that black pork – no, it’s only the skin colour that is black – as chops and all that.

Town just up the road that claims at least to be the centre of this business. Ourique……which is where some reasonable portion of “Spanish” ham originates from.

13 thoughts on “Hmm, well, yes, Spanish ham”

  1. Secreto is great slowly grilled to reduce the fat content without losing the fat flavour. Secreto is good from ordinary pig too.

    Also try presa and pluma which are better if you prefer less fat.

    Also good in normal pig and cheaper of course.

    Didn’t know Portugal was in on the act!

  2. God I miss it. Even here in the sticks we were able to buy prepackaged slices of Jamon Iberico from the local grocers. This past year, however, it has become too expensive for general consumption and as a consequence has been discontinued.

  3. So, you eat meat. That leaves you the choice of which meat, and of course, the old chestnut that some religions abhor pork, supported with some bullshit that it gives you worms.

    Now, which animal to choose. Sheep – smallish, goats rather similar, just a bit stronger taste. Sheep eat grass, goats that and just about anything vegetation-wise, so sheep preferred in northern Europe, goats most other places. However, one offspring per year, occasionally two.

    Horse, donkey, mule, pony – also one offspring per year, much bigger than sheep & goats, but definitely grass eaters, and taking more than a year to grow to full size. Cattle and deer – broadly similar. Pachyderms and camels even worse.

    Now, the humble pig. Eats almost anything, grows like wildfire as a result, huge meat content – and can have several litters of 6-8 piglets every year. Also tastes delicious, and gives a huge variety of cuts – even the blood makes black pudding!

    So, you want a meat diet, which is the best. Answers on a postcard, please.

    Joke section: If God wanted us to be vegetarians, then why did he make meat so delicious?

    Animals are God’s way of making it possible for us to eat grass.

    God’s chosen peoples are chosen to go hungry …

  4. the old chestnut that some religions abhor pork, supported with some bullshit that it gives you worms.

    I reckon this may be why though, int’it?

    (And we were all raised to be terrified of undercooked pork, which is like the British aversion to drinking from the hot water tap – an outdated concern)

    So, in a pre-literate society in a warm climate with little sanitation and no refrigeration, what’s the best way to stop people eating potentially dangerous stuff like pig meat and shellfish? Attribute dietary advice to the Big Man in the sky.

    Otoh, by the time of the Prodigal Son, it seems some of the neighbours of the Israelites happily ate bacon, so perhaps it was purely a shibboleth by that point or always was.

    Now, the humble pig. Eats almost anything, grows like wildfire as a result, huge meat content – and can have several litters of 6-8 piglets every year.

    Yes, today. But thousands of years ago?

    So the modern chicken bears little resemblance to its ancient forefeathers, first tamed in the jungles of India. Even chickens of 100 years ago produced significantly less meat and eggs than wot modern cluckies do.

    At the time when the Jews decided they weren’t all that keen on ham, Peppa’s primitive ancestors may have been significantly less tempting a source of protein.

  5. There is another explanation, Steve. The Abrahamic religions were the religions of nomadic, goat herding people. Pigs aren’t the sort of animal you schlep around the countryside. You need a settled lifestyle to raise pig. Changing lifestyle threatens the dominance of the religious leadership. “So leave those dirty pigs out Manny, stick with yer goats & the tribe. Much safer for you. Devils’ work, pigs”

  6. Dietary rules are as much about stopping the faithful breaking bread with the infidels as they are about health. If your neighbors eat pork, then you don’t, and that puts a stop to fraternizing.

  7. Steve: wild boar and warthog are delicious and fertile just dangerous to handle. Hats off to the ancestors who domesticated pigs!

  8. Christ a lot of DIY crap is written about the Hebrews and pork.

    It’s got bugger all to do with the climate or disease or the Palestinian hill country being unsuitable for pigs. Hell’s bells, the climate is little different from Portugal or Spain.

    Spinoza explained it: it was a food taboo adopted to stop Hebrews joining in the festivals/feasts of their fellow Canaanites who weren’t members of the new religious cult.

    And although clever old Spinoza couldn’t know it, the archaeology is consistent with his explanation. At one time plenty of pig remains were left in the hill country villages. Then, bang!, no pig remains. It could have been due to an invasion of extra-terrestrials, but it seems likelier to be a new religious cult being formed.

    It can’t have been an invasion of Hebrews under Joshua because that never happened.

  9. @Steve October 5, 2019 at 11:13 am

    British aversion to drinking from the hot water tap [any tap not mains] – an outdated concern

    Only if there is no cold tank and whole system sealed and mains pressure

  10. I’ve always adored that even small village shops in Portugal will have several grades of Presunto – and it’s seriously good ! Decent deli counter in supermarket will have 10 or more varieties. If you look round old Portuguese farms you’ll often find that there are a lot of fig trees in the area around the pig dried. Figs were a common part of the fattening regime.

    Little compares with a Portuguese bifana sandwich too!

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