The Most Important Ham in Spain
Talk about pigging out:
World's costliest ham triggers pork envy
By AMANDA RIVKIN, Associated Press Writer Sat Aug 18, 2:20 PM ET
ALBURQUERQUE, Spain -
...Hard-core foodies are drooling over the prospect of something truly superlative from Spain, at least in price: a salt-cured ham costing about $2,100 per leg, or a cruel $160 per pound. It's a price believed to make it the most expensive ham in the world.
Don't grab your wallet just yet. And forget about asking for just a slice.
The 2006 Alba Quercus Reserve (as this pricey pork will be known) won't be available until late 2008 and you must buy the whole ham or nothing at all. But that hasn't dissuaded gastronomic Web sites and blogs from buzzing with talk of the farm where it is being produced, likening it to a Mount Olympus of pork.
"It is the most important ham in Spain," adds Pedro Soley, a Barcelona connoisseur who is among the lucky few lining up to buy one. Indeed, this is a limited edition piece: Maldonado will produce just 80 to 100 legs.
...Maldonado has yet to set a price for customers who buy the 13-pound hams directly from him, but the food site Ibergour.com has a dozen for sale at $2,100 each, and is accepting $250 deposits.
Is it ridiculous to pay that for a piece of pig?
No, says Maldonado. A ham like this can be shared among 20 people, he notes, whereas a bottle of the finest wine going for the same amount goes down quickly among just a few.
For four generations, Maldonado's family has been making ham from high-quality hogs in this town of 5,000 in Spain's southwest Extremadura region.
Their herds of black Iberian beauties are kept on a handful of acorn-rich farms in the surrounding meadowlands, walking freely up to 6 miles daily without any swineherds to look after them.
After the pigs are butchered, they are cured in high-grade sea salts and refrigerated at 39 degrees. The salt is wiped off after about 12 days. Over the course of the next three months, the temperature is gradually raised to 68 degrees.
The hams then are brought into one of Maldonado's two warehouse-size cellars where they cure for two years, hanging on a series of interconnected hooks from floor to ceiling, like curtains.
Maldonado will only give a ham the top-grade seal if it passes his olfactory test after the curing process. He drives a small rod through the outer layer of fat and into the meat to see if he considers it up to snuff.
In his cellar, Maldonado drew one of the hams close and rubbed his thumbs gently against the smooth roundness of the ham's firm base.
"Ham provides us with life," he said with a smile.