Saturday, October 14, 2006

Spanish Pigs Have Black Feet

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The first night in Catalonia is dinner al fresco in my Barcelona Hotel. Three reasons for this. One, I need to pace myself over the next week. Two, there are several Spanish ingredients I want to try at the market. Three, its August 30 and most of the places I want to try are closed until September 1. Those Euros and their August adventures.

Barcelona's main covered market, Mercat de Sant Josep/ La Boqueria, is centrally located just south of the Gothic quarter. I went there in search of sheep's cheese and jamon iberico (ham from the patta negra "black-footed" pig) "Bellota" (which refers to the pigs being free-range and fed on acorns). I was also looking for some exotic fruit and a decent local wine to wash it all done. SCORE! I found a Catalonian raw milk sheep's cheese that tasted like a sweet ricotta, but with enough structure to stick to a piece of baguette. I urge you to seek out these anonomous fresh cheeses in European markets. They simply don't exist in the U.S. except at a very few farmers' markets around the country. SCORE 2: Izatzabel, one of my favorite Spanish cheeses, in the pecorino toscano style, but with a sharper edge. SCORE 3: Mediterranean peaches and plums and a 10-euro Tempranillo (red wine) that was perfectly drinkable.

Then the Grand Slam: 150 grams of cured pork leg, sliced thin, from the acorn-fed black-footed (patta negra) iberico pigs--a bona fide culinary treasure, in my judgement, like the white truffles of the Piemonte and the endangered beluga cavier. Much earthier than the Prociutto di Parma of my heritage, this ham is darker in color and has more of a caramel sweetness. It is also less salty and can be more or less chewy than Prociutto, depending on the paricular ham and how it is cut. My experience is that the Spanish cut it more thickly than is typical in Italy. At room temperaure the surface of the slices is pleasantly oilly. Rub a piece on your upper lip and eat fruit!

I also tried several other cured cuts of this animal, including the Lomo (cured loin of the black-footed pig) and Chroizo (a spanish paprika-spiced cured sausage, unlike the raw Mexican Chorizo). It was all spectacular. Once, the first slice of spicy chorizo went down, it was slice after slice until it was completely gone.

So how do we get it here? Go to Spain. Unfortunately, there has been no acorn-fed jamon iberico from patta negra pigs in the United States, because there was no USDA approved processing facility in Spain--but that is all changing. This year a U.S. company called la Tienda began importing iberico lomo and chorizo and will be receiving its first iberco hams very soon. The company has worked directly with Spanish producers and the USDA for half a decade to bring jamon iberico to the United States and you can go to the web site to pre-order yours now. But fair warning, it will be expensive. The stuff I acquired during my trip cost 122-euros (about $146) per kilo. In the meantime, try their lomo and chorizo and get a can of the sweet smoked spanish paprika to juice up your sauces and rubs.

We put in for our ham three or so years ago and will be having a pig-eaten party when it arrives in 2008.

But back to Barcelona. With my ham, fruit, cheese and wine (and British TV), I was in no need of the famed Barcelona night life. Instead, my foodie equivalent of smoking hashish in Amsterdam--partaking of contraband raw milk cheese and forbidden cured pig in a Barcelona hotel was enough for me. I felt like I was putting one over on the puritans at the USDA, and with the price of the ham and measuring it in grams, it was not unlike an illegal drug experience.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post, Paul. Barcelona is one of my favorite cities.

While you're on the Tienda site, also order some piquillo peppers.

11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul, you could as well state that white rabbits have white feet. The whole cerdo iberico pig is blackish, this includes feet :-)

1:16 PM  
Blogger kf7879 said...

Couple of corrections to your post, Paul: the "pecorino"-like cheese you referred to as "Izatzabel" is actually idiazabal, an unpasturized sheep's milk cheese from the Basque region, and is definitely available in the US. Secondly, the term for the black iberian pig is actually "pata negra" not "patta negra", and literally means "black hoof". Next, the term "temperanillo" (not "tempranillo") doesn't mean red wine but is actually the most common grape used in Spanish wines. Finally, the acorn-fed iberian pig meat actually IS now available in the US (I believe as recently as early '07). I only correct you because you sound like a genuine Spanish food aficionado as I am, and thought you might like to learn a bit more about it! By the way, if you're ever in Philadelphia definitely go to Amada--the most authentic spanish food I've found in the US!

7:14 PM  
Blogger dilettante said...

KF7879, actually, Paul is correct about the spelling of the grape varietal "tempranillo." The name derives from the Spanish word for early (temprano) because this particular grape ripens a bit earlier than others.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Fabiola said...

La Boqueria is a popular food market which has some of the best food stands in all Spain. The quality is excellent and the presentation too. OK, you won't buy many fresh food, but anyway, this Barcelona place deserves a visit, not only for the local ambiance, but also for the architecture of the place and the nice colored glass. Spanish writer Vazquez Montalban, known as a gourmet, came here daily to buy fresh products...

8:36 AM  
Blogger Eduardo said...

There are three things which I won't forget about Barcelona. The first is La Sagrada Familia. The dedication and devotion of Gaudi can be felt by any average passing bys. The second is cheap Barcelona hotels and air tickets. And the last is the great food. My mouth still gets watery when I think about the eateries in la Boqueria. And the tapas! Aside from one or two exceptions, every meal during our five days in Barcelona was gratifying.

12:52 AM  

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