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An all-new Iberico ham arrives (again)


Cinco Jotas ham is the latest must-have Spanish pork product headed for the United States. (LaTienda.com)

A new Spanish ham is coming to America. Made from black-footed pigs that feed only on acorns, the ham has the silkiest texture and the nuttiest flavor ever tasted on this side of the Atlantic.

Wait. Haven’t I heard this story before?

Well, yes. Sort of.

The announcement from online gourmet food store La Tienda this week heralds the arrival of what it calls the “Rolls Royce” of Iberico de Bellota ham. The company, Cinco Jotas, makes its ham from 100-percent black-footed pigs (other Ibericos may be cross-bred to make them grow larger). And those pigs are fed only acorns (other Ibericos may eat some hay or other feed during their lives). La Tienda’s Cinco Jotas 5J brand is available for pre-order. The paleta, the cured front leg of the animal, will be available this summer. The ham, made from the larger back legs, should arrive on American shores in early 2011.

It wasn’t long ago that cured pork in America was known by one name, if it was known at all: prosciutto. Then in 2006, the drumbeat for Spanish ham began. First came Iberico, hams made from the famous black-footed pigs. Next came the acorn-fed pigs, called Iberico de Bellota, which Washington super-chef-restaurateur Jose Andres called the "hero" of Spanish cuisine. Last summer, I attended a party where we tasted – available for the first time! – fresh Iberico de Bellota pork.

It’s all very exciting, especially if you can afford it. (A bone-in Iberico de Bellota ham from Fermin sells for about $96 per pound or $1,395 for a whole one, including free shipping! The fresh Iberico pork sells for nearly $30 a pound.) But with one launch after another, the oh-so-exclusive world of Spanish ham feels a little less special. Has the Spanish ham industry tried too hard to hype its products?

Jonathan Harris, co-owner of La Tienda, admits the subtle differences between Fermin Bellota and Cinco Jotas may be difficult for even pork-crazy Americans to parse. He sees the arrival of new producers as a maturing of the market. First, we had none. Then, after a 10-year battle with the USDA, Fermin won approval for Iberico ham. Now, other producers are entering the market.

Okay. But do those tiny differences make it taste better? Is this Cinco Jotas ham really worth $1,795 or $109 per pound?

“That’s what they say,” Harris says.

We’ll find out in 2011.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  January 20, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Shopping  | Tags: Jane Black, ham  
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