Not all jamón ibérico is created equal. For there are impostors, “cross-bred pigs raised for commercial reasons like faster growth or bigger legs, and flooding the market at cheap prices to cater for the masses,” shares Aaron Gillespie, executive chef at Ham & Sherry.
Rest assured, the ibérico at this Hong Kong jamón specialist is always purebred. “We source a variety of jamón from different areas,” says Gillespie. “Jamón from Jabugo and Extremadura are usually featured, always 100 percent ibérico and aged from 36 months up to 60 months.”
Sixty-months aged jamón is a rare find. Not many producers will invest that amount of time in making ham. You won’t find it in just any restaurant in Hong Kong, and it’s not on the a la carte menu here. Regulars know to look for it on the specials board. But the only way to guarantee you’ll get a taste of this richer, meaty ham is to strike up a friendship with Gillespie, who often keeps some aside for his most loyal guests.
The deep-red, deeply delicious king of hams is loved for its generous layer of fat.
These black pigs live the good life on the Iberian peninsula.
They graze across expansive Spanish meadows, feasting on tasty acorns (bellota). Once the pigs reach their peak, they are slaughtered, salted, and hung to dry. The ageing process imparts an incredible nutty flavour and aroma.
There’s more to life though, than jamón ibérico, and Gillespie would like you to be more adventurous with your choice of pig. He’s particularly fond of ham made from Hungarian mangalitsa pigs, which require almost as much time and effort to raise and produce. While mangalitsas haven’t been fed acorns, the pigs “have had a very healthy life eating organic fruits on the farm where they’re raised” says Gillespie. “They forage around and it comes through in the meat a lot, giving it unbelievable flavour profiles.”
Asked to describe the difference, Gillespie says mangalitsa is “less nutty, more fruity, you can taste the pastures, and it may be creamier and fattier. While jamón is very fatty on the outside, mangalitsa has more lovely marbling throughout, so the meat melts in your mouth as much as ibérico.” With production levels still low, Gillespie only gets about one leg a month.
You’ll want to cosy up with him on this, too.