Friday, 17 December 2010
There comes a moment in everyones life when you realise that there just isn't quite enough pig involved.
Most people will perhaps add a chop or two next time they are in the supermarket. The more adventurous might opt for some Italian charcuterie with an unpronounceable name and an endorsement from Jamie Oliver. But both of these are clearly easy ways out, and bound to disappoint.
The Russian, however, is a man whose problem-solving abilities are legendary. No situation is too much for his particular breed of inspired whimsy and near limitless financial backing. And this is how on a recent visit I found myself face-to-face with an entire Iberico ham leg complete with authentic stand-thing (or Jamonero) and hopelessly blunt knife. Not much change from £400 apparently.
The recent proliferation of tapas restaurants mean that many will be au fait with the intricacies of jamon iberico. It is a cured Spanish ham, courtesy of the black Iberian pig. The pig itself seems usually to be a greyish colour, the 'black' of the name referring instead to the colour of the hooves.
The Spaniard's love of Denomicions has lead him to create a complicated scale of quality based primarily on quite how many acorns said pig has been eating. The zenith of this being jamon iberico de bellota, cured for three years and coming from pigs which are not fed grain but rather allowed to range freely and consume as many acorns as they can snuffle out. Needless to say, this is what the Russian had.
The first difficulty one comes upon when confronted with a whole ham leg is just how to go about hacking it up. Entire books have been devoted to the subject, but time was of the essence so we eschewed the experts and set about it ourselves...
Carving Iberico is ham markedly harder than you might imagine.
Initial efforts resulted in pieces that were probably closer to 'hunks' than the traditionalist might desire. But with time and the addition of a steel we improved and, by the end of the evening, produced some professionally thin slices.
Served at a correctly warm temperature the meat's fat hovered on the brink of liquidity and brought a lush silken texture to the splendid nutty salt-savouriness.
The care, the pride, and the pretentiousness pays off- a serious food lives up to a serious price-tag. Casticismo is yours for £400.