Space Jamón – Spain [Franklin Smith]

13 10 2010

Jamón: it’s what’s for dinner (and lunch, midnight snack, maybe even breakfast too).

I want to spin you a tale about a substance which, through just the mention of its name, will bring most Spaniards to the point of frenzy.  When prepared in the right way it will dissolve in your mouth, leaving you with a fiery Iberian desire for more.  They save the best for Christmas, with short Spanish grandpas hoarding small pieces in the deep recess of a dark attic.  I told the kids in my English class that it was my favorite food here, and I basically received a standing ovation.

Jamón. It could be translated and watered down to something like “Spanish Ham”, but that would really be an unintelligible act, because there is nothing else like it in the world.  Or, to be more precise: jamón ibérico de bellota.  The best pigs are only fed on acorns (bellotas), giving them the perfect fat content in order to be mind-blowingly delicious.  Once fattened up, the pigs are killed (there are even festivals just devoted to this), salted, cured, hung, and aged.  This isn’t Oscar Meyer or Boar’s Head quality– those brands seem like they don’t even come from the same animal as jamón.  Try to imagine a thinner and fattier prosciuttio, and try to think of an overwhelming feeling of warmth.  You could eat this stuff without teeth.  Half of the time, you just put it in your mouth and enter into a trance, returning to consciousness to find yourself blindly groping for the next piece.

I usually buy packaged jamón in the grocery store.  (Not the highest quality, but I’m on a budget, see?).  It is basically as cheap as lunchmeat in the USA, and at the bigger stores you can buy whole legs, about 15 pounds for $75.  Or, if you are serious about your jamón, you can go to the ‘jamón only’ stores (and there are tons of them).  Going into these stores is like being transported to the set of a Rocky movie, bumping into hanging slabs of meat amidst primitive grunts and utterances.  (But if you punched the meat here, they would definitely throw you out instantly.)  And eating it in a restaurant is the best; at some of the more ridiculous ones, they have the leg of jamón sitting out in the open, and they cut your pieces in front of you.

I was told that the proper way to eat this jamón is to ‘let it sweat’.  Take it out of the fridge and its plastic packaging.  Let it sit on a platter for a little while.  Drink some wine while you are doing this.  In time, it’ll reach room temperature and the full salty flavor will come out.  The only utensils to use are your fingers, making the eating of this meat a full-body experience.

When I was in tenth grade I did a presentation on this meat, thinking that Spaniards must be more than a little crazy to be so obsessed with this stuff.  All that I read just didn’t make any sense.  But now that I understand it a little more,  I wish that I could bring a couple slices back in time to 16-year-old Franklin and let him taste the substance behind the words.  All I can say is: hopefully on my way back to America, customs doesn’t decide to look inside my suspiciously ham-shaped duffel bag…





One response

13 10 2010

we be Jamon
can you get this anywhere in the USA?

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