Adventures in Ridiculously High-Priced Ham

Categories: Featured, Sietsema

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No, your eyes do no deceive you--this ham sells for $169.00 per pound, and I bought .13 pounds of it.

If you think Italians are the Europeans most obsessed with cured pork products, you'd be wrong. They can't hold a candle to the Spanish, who dry-cure an amazing wealth of hams and sausages. Some can be incredibly expensive. Step into Despana (308 Broome Street, 212-209-5050) and find a dozen cured hams, some of them still on a pig leg with the trotter attached, on carving stands that resemble medieval torture devices.

Jeremy McNamara

The torture device. Note the little metal cut-out of the pig under an oak tree.

Despana's most expensive ham is called pata negra (for its striking black hooves) or, more properly, jamon Iberico. The most renowned and costly of these is the jamon Iberico de Bellota, made from pigs who have feasted primarily on acorns in the southwest of Spain, and are a protected national treasure. Their hams are cured a whopping 36 months, which renders the flesh garnet in color, and the fat yellowish.

As you might have expected, jamon Iberico de Bellota was banned in the United States by the FDA, who are fond of banning completely wholesome products from other countries, while almost encouraging free-range salmonella here among American products. The ban was finally lifted in 2005, which is how I was able to buy this ridiculously expensive ham.

What does the ham taste like? Turn page to find out.

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