Hungry While Roaming: Spain is Jamón
Updated: Aug 11, 2022
Jamón Ibérico was love at first taste
It was May 2001 when I first tried Jamón Ibérico on my introductory visit to Madrid. From the very first moment this beautiful Spanish "Pata Negra" touched my lips, I knew it was love at first taste.
It’s a bit difficult to describe the jamón ibérico experience and taste, yet I’ll give it a go. The first thing you’ll notice is the color. It has a dark ruby red color with streaks of white fat sprinkled throughout. It’s sliced very thin and the best-graded versions have a glossy fat coating. When you place this wafer-thin jamón on your tongue, you’ll first notice some salt, then this will quickly evaporate to a comforting glossy and silky-textured with a full-bodied round flavor.
Almost immediately, the fat will start to melt and turn into a delicious nutty flavor with a very mild funk, similar to an aged porterhouse steak. In about 10 seconds, you'll know why this is the best ham in the world. Below I'm pictured in front of a charcuterie store in Segovia Spain, featuring top-graded Jamón Ibérico from Emilo Diaz.
What is Jamón Ibérico?
There are several types of jamón and the history and grading of Jamon can be a bit tricky, yet good to know they essentially all taste delicious and they all need to be respected and enjoyed. Check out this helpful Wikipedia article for a detailed look at the grading and history of jamón ibérico the king of slow food. Simply put, Pata Negra aka De Boletta is the crown jewel of jamón ibérico which is absolutely the best. Like everything tasty in this world, it comes with a price; however, in Spain, the price of even some of the best jamón ibérico will not break the bank at 7-20 Euros for a few grams, which is perfect for an afternoon Tapas. Below a woman is purchasing some freshly sliced Pata Negra from Madrid's famous Mecardo de San Miguel.
Where to get Jamón Ibérico in Spain?
Jamón Ibérico is literary hanging everywhere in Spain. From restaurants to grocery stores and even in upscale fashion department stores, Jamón is present and ready to be sliced and enjoyed. When I arrive in any new country or city, the first place I always visit is the grocery store to load up on some tasty delights for the week. The lower grades of jamón for a basic sandwich or cooking can be purchased for 2-4 Euros at almost all grocery stores across Spain.
For convenience, you can also sample pre-made bocadillos (ham sandwiches) all over the place. It's very common to find jamón ibérico bocadillos which are thinly sliced Jamón on a crusty baguette, simple, beautiful & delicious. You can also find jamón stuffed simply in paper cones for convenience so you can walk and eat your ham on the go, which is pure genius!
How to enjoy Jamón Ibérico?
There is no wrong way to enjoy jamón ibérico, and if no one is looking you can eat it straight from the grocery store package. However, when possible I recommend eating jamón at room temperature served with a nice Vino Tinto Reserva or Fino dry Sherry which adds a little bitterness and acid to balance out and complement the glossy, heaven-sent pork fat. Then simply enjoy, very slowly, with intention and purpose and you'll never think of ham the same way again.
Zaragoza Spain, jamón ibérico paradise
It was our last day in Zaragoza, Spain and I was getting the itch for one last taste of the melt in your mouth delight of jamón ibérico. We stumbled across al Corte Gastrobar who specialize in jamón ibérico and other slow food delights. We met Anabel, who was our friendly jamón guide who helped us select a "Green Label" jamón De Cebo De Campo ibérico, which was exactly what we were craving and also in our budget for 9 Euros for a generously sized plate. Once our choice was made, Anabel summoned the expert slicer Pedro who brought 3 types of knives and a set of tongs where he proceeded to surgically carve us into jamón heaven.
What I enjoyed most about this experience (besides the ham-obvious) was how warm, friendly and informative the family at al Corte was. Sure there was a language barrier, yet Christy and I both appreciated how patient and welcoming the family was with all of my geeky jamón questions in broken Spanish. They were extremely helpful in making our afternoon one to savor. Do yourself a favor, If you ever find yourself in Zaragoza, Spain, take an hour or two, slow down and cozy up to the bar at al Corte and enjoy some hand-sliced jamón ibérico, aka the best ham the world has to offer.
Eric is a blogger, podcaster & educator with a passion for food, arts, and cultures around the world. Follow Eric on Instragram@wanderingwigloo or facebook@liveletroam & liveletroam.com
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