I never thought very much about ham. Salty, cold, sometimes slimy, what’s the big deal, right?
Right, until the day I met my Spanish friend, J.
J was in London for three months, and his mum had stocked up on all things Spanish to help him survive in UK. At the end of his stay, he had too much goodies left uneaten and lonely in his flat, so he kindly brought some for me to try. And I got soooo lucky.
J had given me some of this ham that looked suspiciously like parma and urged me to give it a try. According to him, ‘you haven’t tasted ham until you’ve had this’. I was skeptical. I mean, parma ham is nice, but come on, even the word ‘nice’ has a limitation to its niceness, that’s why the word ‘nice’ is just….nice, if you see what I mean.
But J was spot on. He was absolutely right, no further from the truth. The ham was very, very nutty, seriously fragrant and the more I chewed on it, the more flavour it released. It was divine, unlike all that silly cured ham nonsense that we grew up with (unless you’re Spanish and you have much access to this, and if you do, I envy you!).
I remember raving about the ham to a very skeptical M. He thought I had gone mad over a stupid piece of cured meat. So I decided to prove him wrong. One day, we had a gathering, I brought M along and asked J to tell M all about pata de negra. J burst out laughing and took a good ten minutes to stop. I figured I said something wrong when he was roaring into the sixth minute, and he said that it’s pata negra (black leg), not pata de negra (leg of a black woman…). I was so embarrassed that I had gotten the name wrong. Needless to say, M was even more skeptical of the elusive ham.
I marched straight to Selfridges & Co. to get a batch of hand-carved pata de negra for M. This stuff, especially Jamón ibérico de bellota, is really expensive at about £20 for 100 grams. The black pigs (hence the name pata negra) are fed on a diet strictly made up of acorns, and this lends a much sought-after, distinct nutty flavour to the cured product. There are lower grades, coming from pigs that feed on mixed diets, and those are slightly cheaper. M was shocked at the price, and was rather reluctant to ‘eat gold’, as he puts it, but I made him have a slice immediately after I paid. You should have seen his face. It was a Eureka! moment.
I bought this for my parents and sister when they visited too, and they had the same revelations when they tasted it. I don’t indulge in this, it’s much too expensive even for food that I love, but once in a very blue moon, I do like to pop down to Selfridges to get a 100 grams of heaven. You could have it with a glass of good red, pair them up with Manchego cheese (Spanish, crumbly, hard, amazing) and get some crackers to go along with the ham, together, they make a pretty decadent snack.
I don’t know if anyone has brought this ham to Singapore, but if such a store exists, beg, borrow or steal, trust me, you have to try a slice of Jamón ibérico de bellota. You won’t regret it.