Mark Bittman (NYTimes) travels to Barcelona, where he bites into one of the greatest sandwiches in the world: an Iberian cured ham sandwich. Although he specifically talks about Café Viena (there are several establishments of this chain in town) there are plenty other equally good places, if not better, to have a Iberian cured ham sandwich or simply to purchase some to take back home.
Here are a few shops in BARCELONA:
- Cinco Jotas (5J) in Rambla de Catalunya, 91
- Colmado Quilez in Rambla de Catalunya, 63
- Club Gourmet inside El Corte Inglés i.e. in Plaça Catalunya (bring your passport and get a discount)
- La Boqueria, another food market in Rambla, 91
- Enrique Tomas cured ham boutiques, i.e. Ferran, 55
- Jamonisimo in Provença, 85
- Mercat de la Concepçió, a food market in Aragó, 313
My advice?… why don’t you visit some of the above and then decide?… I’m serious… it’s a nice walk and they’re not that far one from the other. Start by Cinco Jotas (5J) in Rambla Catalunya and head south towards Plaça Catalunya… after Cinco Jotas (5J) on your right hand side, a bit further down on the same street side you’ll find Colmado Quilez, corner with Carrer Aragó. After you’re done with this shop, continue 300m towards Plaça Catalunya, to your left, you’ll see an ugly four stories grey ‘bunker’ with the sign “El Corte Ingles” on the façade. Get in and go downstairs to the basement… there you’ll find the Club Gourmet store. Then, get back to Plaça Catalunya and walk 100m to La Rambla, start walking south -towards the Columbus Monument- and at about 300m to your right you’ll see the entrance to La Boqueria market, wander the stalls (and, among other, keep an eye for the Michael Schara stall! – http://www.schara.info/). Finally, being back in La Rambla, 75m to your left you’ll find a street called Carrer Ferran, take it and a further 100m will lead you to an Enrique Tomas boutique. I left out the last two because they’re not in the way, but by all means visit them too. Nice walk and nice shopping!
Tips on buying Iberian ham (“pernil” in Catalan, the local language, “jamón” in Spanish) in a shop:
- Iberian ham is a generic definition of cured ham and then there are different names depending on their geographical origin (i.e. Jabugo ham which is bred specifically in the area around the town of Jabugo in Huelva, south of Spain). There are different areas in Spain where they produce ham, most famous arguably Jabugo in Extremadura and Gijuelo in Castilla. Beware as these names only mean where the ham is from, but it doesn’t certify its quality though.
- There are basically two types of Iberian ham: jamón serrano made from the landrace breed of white pig and jamón ibérico, which only accounts for about 8% of Spain’s cured-ham production, is very expensive and not widely available abroad, and is made from the Black Iberian breed.
- Within the later, there are three types: the finest is called jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn). This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests (called dehesas) along the border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during this last period. It is also known as jamón ibérico de Montanera. The exercise and diet have a significant impact on the flavor of the meat; the ham is cured for 36 months. The next grade, a bit cheaper, is called jamón ibérico de recebo. This ham is from pigs that are pastured and fed a combination of acorns and grain. Taste is similar to the earlier, but the meat has a different amount of fat as the pigs have had less exercise so to speak. The third type is called jamón ibérico de cebo, or simply, jamón ibérico. This ham is from pigs that are fed only grain. The ham is cured for 24 months. All three types are excellent though!
- Also different names are used depending on the part of the pig the ham comes from: “paleta” (front leg) or “paletilla” -referring to a small pig- is usually cheaper than “jamón” (rear leg) (i.e. “paletilla ibérica de bellota”)
- What a lot of people I know do when buying Iberian ham in a shop is asking them for some little bits to taste and compare. If they refuse… well, they have lost a customer, there are so many other places with helpful staff where to buy it!
- The most expensive piece should be good, but not necessarily “the best” from those they have in offer, not to say we all have different tastes. It is not only about the brand or the place of origin but also how long did it mature, how long since they started to slice it in the shop, the humidity and temperature it has been stored in, etc. all these factors affect the taste, sometimes for the best sometimes not so much.
- Vacuum sealed sliced ham can last for days out of the fridge and weeks if refrigerated. In any case, open the package at least 15 minutes before eating, or more if it has been in the fridge. Iberian ham distinctive fat melts around 23ºC (74ºF), so it should be eaten at room temperature, allowing for all the aromas to develop and release its full flavour.
(These magnificent tips are based on a post by @Belsaita in TripAdvisor.com)
In order to curb the ever growing cheap imports from certain Asian countries into Spain of pigs that have not been grown following the strict protocols that regulate the Iberian ham denomination, a new law is to be introduced in 2014. This new law will add yet another certification to the Iberian ham being sold in the country. The law will categorise the different types and quality of Iberian pork based on the breed of the pig, its food and handling, and the treatment the meat receives before sale.
There will be four colour codes that are to be attached to the meat at the factory in such a way that it cannot be manipulated later:
- BLACK: Maximum quality. 100% Iberian pork fed on acorns, corresponding to the pata negra classification of “black foot”.
- RED: Iberian pigs which have been cross bred with Duroc pigs, but which are still fed on acorns.
- GREEN: Iberian field pigs (note the difference!) which have grown up outside, or on intensive outdoor farms.
- WHITE: battery produced pig meat. Pigs in a confined area fed on factory feed.
Video: © The New York Times Company