Jamon, A `Masterclass´ at Las Añadas de España, Valencia.

Jamons on their Jamoneros.

For the last couple of years I have enjoyed the occasional `almuerzo´ ( a bit like elevenses) at Las Añadas where they have taken the opportunity to showcase products from the delicatessen. Now Valencia´s premier delicatessen and wine shop has revised the format of these almuerzos and introduced the `gastrolunch´! The first of these was a `masterclass´on Jamon, Spain’s premier gastronomic product, tutored by in-house Cortador, Dani Garrido. During tuition in cutting jamon, Dani was also to explain some of the process of production, conservation in the home and basic presentation techniques.

Now, I know I like Jamon, I like certain `brands ´from the supermarkets but I profess to knowing little about it except that black feet pigs from Andalusia fed on acorns produce the best and most expensive varieties and it has always been this that has put me off buying a whole Jamon for the house. Supermarkets present very little information ( it is a given the Spanish are all experts on food and thus need no help!) except for price per kilo and origin.

Dani Garrido Prepares a Plate.

I have bought the odd paleta ( the front leg rather than the back leg which is a jamon) on offer but apart for practicing carving on these they are generally frowned upon because the bone to meat ratio is so high….and thus with it the waste!

I digress. Dani explained that we were to try three different Jamons, a Jamon Iberica Bellota from Castro Gonzalez, a Jamon Recebo Quercus and a Jamon de Autor Añejo from  Teruel, the latter a Serranos ham. So what is the difference. Well black feet ( or Pata Negra) Jamon is from the Iberico pig, which some say was brought by the Phoenicians around 7oo years BC and others believe is a Canadian breed.

It is tall and heavy but has very small bones. It comes from one of four delineated areas in Andalusia and Extramadura.

Carving the Castro Gonzalez.

On the other hand Serranos ham comes from shorter white European pigs and has much bigger bones than the Iberico. The former produce a darker meat and the latter is more like prosciutto, the Italian version. It is produced in various parts of Spain, including towns from Teruel down to Segorbe in the Valencian Community.

The jamons were mounted on their jamoneros, the two Ibericos long and triangular, the Serranos more guitar-shaped, with just enough skin and fat removed. This is an important part of the conservation of Jamon in the home because once exposed the meat will dry out and oxidise, particularly with the ibericos. So , better to leave excess fat on until you are ready to carve and always use a very sharp boning knife to remove this, never the slim, long bladed jamon knife used for carving slices.

The two Ibericos were mounted differently, one toes up and one toes down to demonstrate the different types of meat produced on the various  parts of the leg, as well as to show where the little bones are which have to be removed so that even slices can be produced! And this is key to understanding the difference between jamon from the bone and the long slices sold on supermarket counters. The latter can only be produced from jamons which have had the bones removed before curing. Short, thin slices are the order of the day when carving from the leg. The three types of meat come from the maza, the contramaza and the punto which are the shin, calf and hip/thigh.

Presentation in `Rositas´.

We began with the Castro Gonzalez, an Iberico from pigs fed purely on acorns and the grass on the dehesa where they graze at about a ratio of one pig to the hectare. The jamon has high levels of mono-unsaturated fats from the anti-oxidant rich acorns, and are dry cured for 24-36 months in sea-salt and mountain air. The slices are served very thin with a little of this natural fat on and the flavour was nutty, strong and quite distinct. A jamon of this variety will cost you from about 350€ for an eight kilo piece. For a  Joselito, the acclaimed top of the range marque you might be looking at 1200€ for the best  of the range. Dani served this surrounding a pile of slices of bread to which you can of course add Olive oil.

Second was the Quercus, an Iberico recebo which means it has been fed at least 85% on acorns and grass but with the diet supplemented by commercial feed.

One of the Participants Tries His Hand!

This had a dry cure of 24 months. This was the stronger reserve style tasting jamon full of flavour and very tender. The fat was a little granular from crystals of salt and acorn which gave the jamon a very nice texture. A jamon from this marque from the Sierra de Bejar  would cost about 250€ for a 7-8kilo leg.

Finally we looked at the Añejo from serranos jamon. This is a fatter shorter leg and is rather more guitar-shaped than the triangular Ibericos. It also has white feet. Removing the skin and fat and exposing the meat showed an altogether paler pinky colour similar to prosciutto. This is the jamon of choice in most homes as it has a much more affordable price at around 55€ per jamon. This will have had a curing period of between nine to fifteen months and must weigh at least 7 kg. The meat is drier and less fatty and as a result a little harder to carve. In flavour it is softer, smooth and very easy to eat, without being strong. Nor does serranos jamon oxidise so quickly, maintaining its colour longer.

So, how do you carve a jamon?

The Guitar Shaped Serranos Añejo From Teruel.

Basically with a long slim bladed, very sharp knife, you slice towards you aiming for short even sized slices, not long thin peices. The knife does all the work, the `cortador´just manipulating the blade by holding the handle only and using the part of the blade nearest to the handle and not the point which gives less control. It should be done one-handed.

The jamons were accompanied by the superb Juanpedros 2007 a wine produced at Chozas Carrascal exclusively for Las Añadas, full of fruit and very full bodied but a soft easy drinker absolutely perfect with jamon.

Gastrolunches will  take place roughly every fortnight from 11.am on Tuesdays, and cost 10€ (8 for members of the Club). Each will cover a different type of product and it´s presentation. This first one was a very enjoyable and informal occasion.

Serranos Jamon Served Over Breadsticks.

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