Regarded as arguably the best ham in the world jamón ibérico has an almost cult-like legion of fans around the globe. Vanessa Viara, a Madrid-based writer, explains what makes this cured ham so special and recommends some of the best places to taste it in Madrid.
Served paper thin on a warm platter with satiny white veins of fat interspersing deep luscious red meat jamón ibérico is so simple, yet so perfect. This cured ham's flavour is truly unique, the meaty, salty smoky explosion is reminiscent of holidays in southern countryside. And, as with all fine foods, there is a great story behind it.
The finest ham (jamón ibérico de bellota) is produced from black Iberian pigs that roam oak forests in the south of Spain near Jaburgo, Guijuelo and a handful of other Denominación de Origen towns. Acorns are the pigs' favourite food and they are known to eat up to ten kilos a day of the stuff which contributes significantly to the taste of the meat plus providing useful antioxidants for the curing process.
As the pigs fatten to almost four times their initial weight, the approach of winter brings the next stage in production. Once cut and carefully prepared, the legs are cured with sea salt and hung to dry for a minimum of 36 months, during which they absorb the scents of the surrounding landscape.
The variations in temperature that accompany the changing seasons have a beneficial effect on the meat, melting down bad fats and converting the others into oleic acid, known for its healthier properties. The result is a deeply marbled reddish-golden leg of ham, half its original size and full of exquisite flavour.
Highly prized in Spain and internationally for its unique taste, this ham can reach retail prices of up to 100 euro per kilo.
Here are some of three of the best places to enjoy jamón ibérico in Madrid...
Founded in 1931 this beautiful tapas bar stays true to its traditional roots serving jamón ibérico de bellota with cured manchego cheese alongside an impressive selection of wines.
Casa Gonzalez: Calle León 12, Tel: +34 914 295 618, casagonzalez.es
Don't expect any thrills at La Venencia. Here it's all about the exquisite dry sherry and the simple yet outstanding tapas, including cured meats, cheese and fish.
La Venencia: Calle de Echegaray 7, Tel: +34 914 297 313.
This southern Spanish bar has a lively atmosphere and outlandish appearnce. But don't be fooled the whimsical decor, they are very serious about their tapas. Here you can taste presa ibérica, one of the best cuts of jamón ibérico, alongside other traditional tapas dishes.
Sanlúcar: Calle de San Isidro Labrador 14, Tel: +34 913 540 052, latabernasanlucar.com