All across Spain, jamón is king. Whether you are in the Basque Country, Catalunya, Madrid, Andalucia, or the Canary Islands, everyone in this part of the world loves Spanish cured ham.
And what’s not to love? It hits all the right notes! Salty, sweet, fatty, rich and complex, a slice of jamón is a treat for the senses and good any time of day. On toast, in sandwiches, on a salad, fried as a garnish, raw on a pintxos or just all by itself, jamón is a perfect food.
While there’s plenty of jamón in Basque pintxo bars, finding the best quality product carved by hand is not so easy. But San Sebastian Food has got you covered with a special two-hour IBÉRIAN HAM CARVING MASTERCLASS. Guided by a master in the art of jamón and paired with a flight of sherry from Jerez, this has become a favorite in-studio event!
The day starts with guests gathered at the wine bar with one of our elite culinary guides and local jamón master Sylvain. Sylvain trained under an expert jamónero in the south of Spain, and with his wife, runs a local gourmet delicatessen. Importing hams from a variety of different producers in the South, Sylvain continues to mature hams in his shop for months, only carves by hand and insists on the finest quality. This man really knows his pig!
Sylvain gives a great introduction to the history and culture behind Spanish ham curing along with digital slides, but it can be hard to pay attention as all eyes in the room are fixed on one thing: la pata. Propped on a wine barrel, mounted in a sleek wooden and stainless steel holster, Sylvain is upstaged by a meter of glorious, glistening Jamón Ibérico!
The first cut may not be the deepest, but it’s one of the most important. Sylvain gives detailed instructions on where and how to start. There’s a protocol to avoid bones, play safe and discard the yellow exterior fat before reaching the meat itself. With a quick change of knives (he works with three), Sylvain is in and slicing off paper-thin wafers for all the hungry guests.
The meat is exquisite, showcasing salinity and high notes from the cure. Delicious and fragrant, it entices you to savor each moment a little longer and then reach for another never-ending slice.
“This is a Ibérico Pata Negra Bellota which is the highest grade. These pigs only eat acorns and grass in the fall, the acorns giving a special flavor to the meat,” he explains. “You’ll see that as we carve deeper, the flavor will change, the color will change, the aromas and tastes will change as we explore the different parts to the jamón. Bien. Who wants to carve?”
An Australian man jumped up to the hoof and under Sylvain’s tutelage began shaving off glorious slices of jamón. “I’m sold. I need to buy one of these mounts!” He joked half-seriously. Everyone took turns slicing away until they were confident with their newfound craft.
Sherry was poured, a flight of four from Bodega Fernando Castilla: a Fino, a Manzanilla, an Amantiado and finally a Pedro Ximénez. One of San Sebastian Food’s wine experts walked everyone through the tasting giving detailed info on the production of sherry and how each one differed in oak treatment and age, and then carefully plied us with aroma and tasting notes, but only after everyone had come to their own conclusions on what’s in the glass.
And what was in the glass was very, very good! A British couple were balled over with the taste of real sherry—this is not Harvey’s Bristol Cream and, no, this is NOT your grandmother’s drink! The Fino is pale, dry and light with an incredible bite and structure, a perfect aperitif. The Manzanilla continues the dry theme but with more body, a bit of wood seeping into the structure. The Amontillado showcases amber hues and rich nuttiness that came off its oak aging. Finally the Pedro Ximénez rounds off the tasting, with sweet dark raisin notes that scream for chocolate and pastry. Regardless of whether a sherry was sweet or dry, they all paired perfectly with the jamón.
By now Sylvain and everyone in the group had successfully carved off different sections from both the top and the bottom of the pata. The flavor changed dramatically from one part to the next, growing in complexity as we cut deeper. The aroma enveloped the room. NOW WE WERE IN THE HAM! The meat was soft and succulent, maroon with vibrant streaks of white fat, the slices longer and more oval in shape. The flavor carried a sweetness too, rounder and more full, it melts in your mouth.
After about two hours everyone was full of succulent meat and exotic tipple. Sylvain passed out vacuum-sealed packages of jamón for everyone to take home and that Australian guy wound up buying a holster! The IBÉRIAN HAM CARVING MASTERCLASS is an intimate, fun and exotic way to get better acquainted with a delicacy from beyond the Basque Country at San Sebastian Food!