Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Pata Negra

A friend I met at work from Spain, during a wine reception where there happened to be some prosciutto on a platter, told me around a year ago about what he believes is the best cured pork in the world, called "Pata Negra" from the south of Spain. I had never heard of it, and in fact it was not legal in the United States and still is not found in this country. The name literally means "black foot." Pata negra is the uncooked, cured ham of a special breed of pigs from the Iberian peninsula that have black hooves. An authentic pata negra comes with the hoof attached, as evidence that it is the right breed of pork and not counterfeit. Pata negra is also known as "Jamón Ibérico 'Bellota'" -- "bellota" meaning "acorns," because the pigs are fattened on a diet of up to 20 pounds of acorns a day before slaughter. The hams are hung to cure for years before being eaten.

One producer has gone to the trouble of getting U.S. Government approval to ship pata negra hams to the United States. I've heard that the approval requires a lot of costly on-site monitoring of the production process by U.S. authorities, which presumably the producer must pay for. An online Spanish grocer, La Tienda, lists the hams for sale, with delivery beginning sometime this summer. You can buy a whole bone-in (about 15 pounds) or boneless (about 9 pounds) pata negra ham for about $1,400. I wonder if you'll be able to get a free taste of that at Zingerman's!

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