Spain’s Premier Pig Continues to Entice American Foodies
Author: Paula Farmer/©ICEX
Move over Rafael Nadal and Penelope Cruz, Spain’s best export to the U.S. is now a chubby, hairy fellow with a big snout. As of a few short years ago the much anticipated Iberico jamon de Bellota made its way states side to the delight of foodies and Spanish transplants alike and the love affair continues. A descendent of the wild boar, that had its history in the forests of the Mediterranean shoreline, the Iberico pig continues to roam free and feasts on acorns. This is the last free ranging and grazing pig in all of Europe and they are exclusive to the ecosystem in the southwestern Iberian Penninsula. As a result, the pig’s meat bi-products are distinctly, delicious and very desirable. The fat is the perfect blend of mild sweetness with a nutty flavor. Until Fermin USA/Jose Andres’ Think Food Group began importing the pork, it was something Americans could only dream about or experience when traveling to Spain.
Getting the highly sought after and desirable dry cured ham is the result of a long, tedious 10-year importation process and reflective of Andres’ and Fermin CEO/President Santiago Martin’s commitment to promote Spanish products in the U.S. Martin remembers vividly the details of the battle. “When FERMIN first started working on the US approval, nobody was able to meet the USDA standards. There was not experience with working with such high quality standards, and the Spanish inspectors were not used to work under USDA rule. It was a huge challenge and also supposed an enormous change of mentality. FERMIN started working on this project in 1995 and gained the approval in 2005. It was a learning process for everybody: FERMIN, the Spanish Ministry, etc.,” Martin reflects.
For however long it took and for however great the effort to get ham to American soil, it seems to have been worth it, from a standpoint of taste and financially. Besides Andres’ Jaleo restaurants in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, Iberico de bellota is on the menu of several fine dining, multi-starred restaurants throughout the U.S. Not least among them is New York’s Picholine, Per Se and Tia Pol. On the West Coast, the list continues to impress, with French Laundry in Napa, California, Cube in L.A. and Truffle Market in Las Vegas, to name just a few. With such stellar clients, it’s no surprise that this gem among pork comes at a price. It generally retails for $180 to $200 per pound. Fermin’s Martin explains the exclusivity and preparation factor in to the pricing. “We´re talking about a very limited animal (only found out on the western region of Spain), so the animal and its breeding and feeding are expensive. Then, we need to cure the ham for over 2 years, in a very traditional and natural way- FERMIN does natural curing