M arrived at the Mercado de San Miguel with a single goal: eat jamón ibérico de bellota. “Iberian Acorn Ham” is the name given to the finest quality Spanish jamón, a fiercely protected product produced through a painstaking process. Black Iberian pigs, living in southern and southwest Spain close to the Portuguese border, freely roam oak groves consuming little besides acorns. Their hams are left to dry for weeks, and cured for another twelve months or more. The result is what is universally considered the finest jamón on the peninsula, if not the planet. The price definitely matches the quality – but it is worth it.
At the Mercado de San Miguel, most patrons get their jamón from a stall featuring Carrasco Guijuelo. The company was founded 120 years ago by the Carrasco family in the tiny town of Guijuelo (Salamanca province, on the border with Portugal). Now a protected designation of origin product, Carrasco Guijuelo now enjoys a major share of the Spanish domestic market, as well as running an enviable export business (but we all know the keep the good stuff). They also produce a lot of other food products.
While the standard jamón is a big seller, I splurged and got the 50 grams of the finest-quality Reserva, priced at 18.5 euros for 100 grams – or $111.13 per pound. The eight slices in this photograph – my total order – were priced at 9.25 euros (although, full disclosure, they accidentally charged me the price for the standard, at 16.5 euros/kilo. I did not correct the error).
We write many words on this blog, but there are simply none that can effectively describe the taste of a perfectly prepared and cured jamón ibérico. The ham is so finely cured that it when sliced, it looks like a wax copy of an actual ham, each slice retaining a light sheen that catches the light of the room. The sheen may is from the fat, which while visually obvious, may as well not exist when eaten. The fat all but liquefies on your tongue, melding with the muscle and acorns in a salty/sweet/nutty flavor profile that is subtle yet precise. Jamón ibérico de bellota is a food that, while you eat it, composes a most beautiful poem about its own taste, and you are more than willing to sit there and have that poem read to you over and over again. By the time I was done, I was ready to pull another ten euros out of my pocket for another 50 grams. If you ever have the chance to get some, don’t pass it up.