A COUNTRY HOUSE IN THE HEART OF EXTREMADURA where you can stay at the cortijo and learn how to create delicious feasts. A seven or four night holiday with cooking, relaxing, exploring historical towns and delightful country walks in the stunning Sierra de Montanchez. Our cooking style is a fusion of Iberic and Moroccan cuisine.
The holiday includes cooking, walking, well-being, cultural visits and country life. We create and enjoy sumptuous Moroccan, Middle Eastern and Iberic feasts at the cortijo of Finca al-manzil
There has been much acclaim for the dinners prepared at the finca so we have decided to share our secrets and run a creative cooking course several times a year.
The cortijo kitchen is spacious with all the special equipment and implements needed to create delicious dishes from Morocco, Middle East, Spain and Portugal. We use natural fresh local vegetables, meat, fish, fruit and herbs; the spices are imported regularly from Morocco.
Our aim and pleasure is to inspire enjoyment of the food in the well designed and decorated surroundings of the finca.
Dinner will be the highlight of every day; starting with tapas which we have had fun inventing then we eat dinner around the huge dining table or in the garden if the evening is warm.
Possibly dinner will have been cooked in the traditional clay oven or over a charcoal grill. We serve Extremeña wines and maybe with coffee a special liqueur from the Jerte valley or some aguadente made from the medroño or wild strawberry bush.
The accommodation is at Finca al-manzil cortijo or barn and a neighbouring house all in beautiful, peaceful situations with splendid views of countryside and up to the peaks of the mountains. The rooms have en-suite bathrooms; there is a choice of single occupancy or shared twin room or renting a whole house for your own use. The sitting room has a wood burning fire for chilly nights and there are two terraces for gazing at the stars.
The classes are open for a maximum of 6 people and minimum of 1 person. Discounts are available if you are able to arrange your own group of 4 friends or more. Our holidays are designed on a weekly or 4 night basis and integrate an interesting programme of cooking, walking, nature observation and culturally based activities. Visits to either Merida, Caceres, Trujillo and Montanchez.
We also enjoy introducing our guests to any fiestas or seasonal agricultural activities that are going on, such as the grape harvest for wine making in September and the olive harvest in November and December.
7 nights holiday at Finca al-manzil or neighbouring house with the following daily programmes, 3 days of cooking and eating the preparation for dinner, 3 days of alternative activities with dinner at the finca. OR 4 night holiday which follows the itinerary for the 3 cooking days on consecutive days
WHEN DO WE OPERATE?
All year except for July and August the hottest months which limit time for the more active part of the holidays. The climate is excellent in the sierra; Spring and Autumn, February – June, September - October are delightfully warm and sunny. Winter, Nov. Dec. and January are less warm but usually sunny and bright with of course more rain. It rarely rains for more than a few hours. We have a wood burning stoves and a cosy atmosphere for the chillier days.
SEVEN NIGHT COOKING HOLIDAY PRICES DOUBLE ROOM FOR SINGLE OCCUPANCY (ENSUITE BATHROOM) €950 PP DISCOUNT FOR 2 PEOPLE SHARING A DOUBLE ROOM €850 PP INCLUDES ACCOMMODATION AT FINCA AL-MANZIL ; ALL DINNERS AND LUNCHES COOKING TUITION ON COOKING DAYS.
DOES NOT INCLUDE FOOD AND BEVERAGES ON EXCURSIONS DISCOUNTS ARE AVAILABLE IF YOU ARE ABLE TO ARRANGE YOUR OWN GROUP OF 4 - 6 FRIENDS. NB. Non-cooking partners and friends are welcome. Optional- some hours of creative cooking or cultural tours or simply enjoy the wonderful location, food and wine. Prices on request
ITINERARY DAY 1 ARRIVAL AT FINCA Time to get to know your surroundings, meet the other guests and relax after your journey. Dinner prepared by Pippa DAY 2 COOKING DAY - MOROCCAN
10.00 – 14.00 - Moroccan Cooking tuition, preparation and cooking of a selection of Moroccan dishes using typical ingredients and spices. Lunch is a healthy light salad with local cheese or jamon, fresh bread and maybe a juice, smoothie or spritzer . Time to relax, a siesta, a swim, some reading or photography perhaps
17.00 – 18.00 or 19.00 for longer walks An optional afternoon walk in the sierra. We see the rich bird life and wild flowers of the sierra and the local agricultural activities, olive and fig groves, sheep and the iberic pigs nurtured on acorns in the woods. There are also mountain bikes if you prefer a ride on the quiet lanes around the finca.
Depending on the time of the year we participate in olive harvest (Dec/Jan) grape and fig harvest (September) Wild Asparagus picking in Spring. Visit to WOMAD in Caceres (May) Medieval Fair in Caceres (November) Usually every month has a local fiesta going on which we can visit.
A pause for another swim or preparing yourselves for the evening, we believe in making a special evening every evening, the table will be looking very pretty and the food is going to be stupendous.We are on Spanish time so tapas and drinks at 20.30 and dinner at 21 ish. Now the rest of the evening is up to you, you have had an interesting, active day so now relax, enjoy and converse.
Trip to Merida to explore the largest collection of Roman ruins besides Rome.
Walk over the 2000 year old Roman bridge into the town where we will visit the impressive theatre and superb museum of Roman art.Time for some shopping or a break in the attractive plaza.Visit the traditional covered market for ingredients for tomorrows cooking. Lunch in a traditional bodega with great collection of bull fighting memorabilia on the walls.Back to finca for relaxing afternoon. Dinner prepared by Pippa , observers and helpers welcome
DAY 4 -COOKING DAY -IBERIAN As day 2 using some of the ingredients that we bought yesterday for preparation of Spanish and Portuguese dishes for dinner.
Afternoon as day 2
DAY 5 Trip to Trujillo a stunning historical town with the most atmospheric Moorish lanes and wonderful views.
A guided tour by Pippa. Lunch in one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain. Back to the finca. Afternoon as day 2. Dinner is prepared for you by Pippa but you can join in with preparation of creative tapas before dinner.
DAY 6 COOKING DAY- MOROCCAN/IBERIC FUSION
Breakfast.Preparation and cooking with typical ingredients and spices. Various dishes including an array of mezes for lunch and more substantial dishes for dinner.
Relaxing afternoon at the finca.
DAY 7- A WALK IN THE SIERRA- An optional walk up the garganta de molinos, the watermill gorge, over the mountain to Montanchez and back down to the finca. A wonderful walk, takes 3 hours in total but we stop for lunch in Montanchez sampling the famous jamon and natural products of the sierra at Restaurant Montanera with its beautiful garden, weather permitting. If some clients do not wish to do the walk but wish to participate in lunch we can arrange transport. Relaxing afternoon at the finca. Dinner.
DAY 8 DEPARTURE Goodbye! With promise of receiving all the recipes during your holiday by e mail plus many others from previous holidays
FOUR DAY COOKING HOLIDAY
DOUBLE ROOM FOR SINGLE OCCUPANCY (ENSUITE BATHROOM) €750 PP
2 PEOPLE SHARING A DOUBLE ROOM €600 PP
INCLUDES ACCOMMODATION AT FINCA AL-MANZIL ; ALL DINNERS AND LUNCHES COOKING TUITION ON COOKING DAYS.
DISCOUNTS ARE AVAILABLE IF YOU ARE ABLE TO ARRANGE YOUR OWN GROUP OF 4- 6 FRIENDS.
NB. Non-cooking partners and friends are welcome.
DAY 1 -ARRIVAL AT FINCA
Time to get to know your surroundings, meet the other guests and relax after your journey. Dinner prepared by Pippa
DAY 2 COOKING DAY - MOROCCAN
10.00 – 14.00 - Moroccan Cooking tuition, preparation and cooking of a selection of Moroccan dishes using typical ingredients and spices for lunch and dinner.
Afternoon is time to relax, depending on the season; a siesta, a swim, some reading or photography perhaps. An afternoon walk in the sierra directly from the finca is interesting, you can see the rich bird life and wild flowers of the sierra and the local agricultural activities, olive and fig groves, sheep and the iberic pigs nurtured on acorns in the woods. The walk to our local village of Montanchez takes 40 minutes, there is a Moorish castle, cafés and bars.
We also have mountain bikes if you prefer a ride on the quiet lanes around the finca.
Dinner - We are on Spanish time so tapas and drinks at 20.30 and dinner at 21.00
DAY 3 -COOKING DAY -IBERIAN
Preparation of Spanish and Portuguese dishes for dinner.
Afternoon as day 2
DAY 4 COOKING DAY- MIDDLE EASTERN
Preparation and cooking with typical Middle Eastern ingredients and spices. Various dishes including an array of mezes for lunch and more substantial dishes for dinner.
Relaxing afternoon at the finca.
Dinner 20.30 – 21.00
DAY 5 - DEPARTURE
Goodbye! With promise of receiving all the recipes during your holiday by e mail plus many others from previous holidays
WHEN DO WE OPERATE?
The holidays are run all year except for July and August the hottest months which limit time for the more active part of the holidays. The climate is excellent in the sierra; Spring and Autumn, February – June, September - October are delightfully warm and sunny. Winter, Nov. Dec. and January are less warm but usually sunny and bright with of course more rain. It rarely rains for more than a few hours. We have a wood burning stoves and a cosy atmosphere for the chillier days.
JUST A DAYS EXPERIENCE WHILST STAYING AT THE FINCA OR ELSEWHERE We meet at the finca at 10.00 and spend a happy morning cooking a wonderful lunch with guidance from Pippa. We enjoy lunch on the patio or in the dining room. The meal will consist of 3 courses with wine, liqueurs and coffee. After lunch you are welcome to stay a while, for a little walk or a swim. The cost includes all the ingredients, tuition, serving and clearing of the meal,time to enjoy the finca. Per person €75. Minimum persons 2
A journey of discovery through delicious food, historical towns & the beautiful countryside of Extremadura
COOKING WITH PIPPA
Enjoy the creation of imaginative dishes inspired by the history of Extremadura. We introduce this little know province of Spain through its cuisine, vibrant history, culture and incredibly beautiful landscape. There are three main cooking sessions at the finca, creating food for lunch and dinner,Pippa will prepare wonderful dinners on some evenings. Our cuisine is based on three different cultures, all related to Extremadura. Latin America -Gorgeous recipes and ingredients introduced into Europe by the conquistadors creating a wonderfully imaginative cuisine. Moroccan - Exotic dishes as a celebration of the 600 year old Moorish history of Extremadura. Extremeno - A fusion from many influences, a cuisine which is full of surprises and wonderful ingredients such as the famous Iberic jamon and pork, wild asparagus, local cheese, wines and sumptuous fruit.
The Latin American recipes use the ingredients brought back from the New World by the conquistadors; chocolate, peppers,avocados, quinoa, chiles,tomatoes and maize are just a few. What could be more appropriate than to use these foods in Extremadura where they were first introduced to the Old World and particularly Trujillo where many of the most famous conquistadors were raised. They returned from the New World with fabulous wealth to build a perfect renaissance town.
The superb nature and countryside of Extremadura can be enjoyed whilst on our way to visiting Caceres and Montanchez where there will be guided cultural walks Accommodation at Finca al-manzil
THE EXCURSIONS TRUJILLO - Pippa will take you on guided tour ofTrujillo, an introduction to your own wanderings through the atmospheric lanes and enjoyment of the vast panoramas from the castle walls. A simple but wonderful pleasure is to enjoy a drink at one of the open air terraces on the plaza, as the sun goes down the ancient buildings glow in a golden light.
CACERES- A fascinating UNESCO world heritage town with a medieval centre and renaissance palaces of the conquistador era.
A walk around the nearby Barruecos, an amazing area of huge granite boulders home to a huge stork colony. This area fascinated the Fluxus artist Wolf Vostell, we visit the wonderful 18th century wool washing complex where he made his home and studio in the 1960s, it is now an enthralling permanent collection of his work and other famous Fluxus artists including Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, George Maciunas, Joseph Beuys etc.
MONTANCHEZ-A wonderful opportunity to visit this perfect hilltop village famous for jamon production. We visit local jamoneras and the cork oak forests where the pigs roam freely feasting on acorns. Situated close by is the haunting Visigoth basilica of Santa Lucia, a sacred place since pre-roman times. Naturally we sample the famous jamon for lunch and then take a walk up to the moorish castle with amazing views across Extremadura.
7 nights eXTREMENO COOKING holiday - double bedroom with en-suite bathroom : €950 pp 10% dISCOUNT IF TWO FRIENDS SHARE ROOM 4 NIGHTS - DOUBLE BEDROOM WITH EN-SUITE BATHROOM : €700 PP 10% DISCOUNT IF TWO FRIENDS SHARE ROOM
Discounts are available if you are able to arrange your own group of 4 -6 friends.
Non-cooking partners and friends are welcome, they can arrange cultural tours, single cooking mornings or simply enjoy the wonderful location, food and wine. Please ask for prices.
WHEN DO WE OPERATE? April is the prime spring month, everything in full bloom, lovely weather, pool is open May is late spring time, a wonderful time in Extremadura.
June is starting to get hot but better to enjoy the pool and a taste of summer without the intense heat.
Autumn starts in late September - October usually delightfully warm and sunny with some rainy days but never continuous.
WHAT DOES THE HOLIDAY INCLUDE?
Accommodation and breakfast at Finca al-manzil for 7 nights, 3 days with 3-4 hours of cooking tuition. Dinner every evening at the finca. Lunch on 4 days, 3 days of alternative activities and excursions.
All ingredients, equipment and pick up/ drop off in Trujillo bus station.
Food and beverages and entrance fees whilst on excursions are not included.
A deposit of 40% of the total price for all persons to be paid to secure the reservation .
The remaining balance to be paid 8 weeks before the date of arrival.
Which is reliable and safe method of international payment.
A typical holiday will consist of the following programme
Arrival at the finca
Time to get to know your surroundings, meet the other guests and relax after your journey.
20.00 Drinks and Dinner at 20.30 prepared by Pippa
2nd DAY 09.30 Breakfast
10.30 -Introduction to Moroccan cuisine and ingredients. Preparation of a typically Moroccan dinner including tagine, couscous, spicy side dishes, delicate pastries and delicious desserts.
Lunch- Some of the dishes prepared in the morning
20.00 Drinks and Dinner 20.30
3rd DAY 09.30 Breakfast 10.30 Depart for guided walk around Trujillo with Pippa, through atmospheric lanes lined with secret gardens, jasmine and orange trees glimpsed over high stone walls, conquistador palacios with exquisite facades and beautiful interiors, sublime churches endowed with impressive works of art.
Lunch- In the splendid plaza.
Free afternoon Dinner at the finca prepared by Pippa.
4th DAY WALK TO MONTANCHEZ 09.30 - Breakfast
10.00 - Departure for Montanchez famous for the production of jamon. Walk around the Moorish castle and visit a typical jamon curing house Lunch in local restaurant to sample some local cuisine. After lunch we visit the dehesa where the iberic black pigs are allowed to roam freely gorging on acorns. A look at the Visigoth basilcia of Santa Lucia which is nearby.
20.30 Dinner prepared by Pippa
5th DAY Introduction to Extremeno cuisine, some superb recipes using the wonderfully varied ingredients of Extremadura 09.30 Breakfast 10.30 -14.00 Preparation of dishes for lunch and dinner Lunch
20.30 Extremeno Dinner
6th DAY VISIT TO CACERES
10.00 Departure for Caceres
A walk around the Barruecas lake and park with a visit to the quirky Wolf Vostell museum at Malpartida de Caceres. Continue to Caceres for a guided walk within the Moorish walls, through the medieval town visiting the museum and Moorish algibe. Lunch in typical bodega.
Back to the finca. Free afternoon.
20.30 Dinner prepared by Pippa.
7th DAY Introduction to New World cuisine.Some interesting dishes using ingredients introduced to Europe in the 16th century and also dishes with an ancient Inca or Aztec historyusing typical ingredients and spices 9.30 - Breakfast.
10.30 -14.00 - Preparing the Conquistador Feast, some very special dishes featuring ingredients brought back from the new world and lots of chocolate Free afternoon for a last walk around Trujillo or just relaxing by the pool.
Another wonderful week at Palacio de Piedras Albas. Perfect weather, super guests and the bonus of watching the Corpus Christi fiesta from the loggia of the palacio.
We tried some new recipes and ingredients during the week. It seems that cassava/manioc/yuca was not familiar with any of our guests so making some intensely flavoured and delicious yuquitas as tapas was fun, the boiled yuca is sticky and makes it easy to form into these pefect balls.These have a Extremadura twist with the addition of jamon. Here is the recipe.
YuquitasRellenas Yuca is a root
vegetable, also known as cassava and manioc root. It can be peeled and boiled
just like potatoes, and it's a staple food in many parts of South
America. These crispy little balls are made by shaping the mashed
yuca around queso fresco and jamon, then rolling them in bread crumbs and
frying them until golden brown. The result is a crispy shell around a soft
starchy filling, with melted cheese in the very middle. Fried yuca balls are
excellent dipped in a spicy salsa. Ingredients: •1 kilo of yuca
root • 100 g queso
fresco and 100 g jamon mashed together •1 egg •2 slices of
bread •10 saltine
crackers •Vegetable oil
for frying •Salt and pepper
to taste •Huancaína sauce
for dipping Preparation: 1. Bring a large
pot of salted water to a boil. Peel the yuca root and cut it into 3 inch long pieces. 2. Add the yuca
to the boiling water and cook for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the yuca is
very tender and can be easily pierced with a fork. It should be fall apart when
poked with the fork. 3. Drain the
yuca in a colander. Remove as many of the woody stems from the center of the
root as possible. Pass the yuca through a potato ricer, or force it through a
colander, to remove any remaining fibrous strings. 4. Season the
mashed yuca with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. 5. Place 2
tablespoons of mashed yuca in the palm of one hand. Make a small well in the
middle, and place a piece of cheese in the well. Wrap the mashed yuca around
the cheese and jamon and roll between your hands to make a round ball. Repeat
with the remaining mashed yuca. 6. In a deep skillet or deep
fat fryer, heat 2 inches
of vegetable oil to 360 degrees. Fry the yuca balls in batches until lightly
golden. Drain on paper towels. 7.Crack 1 egg
into a bowl and whisk lightly with a fork. Process the bread with the crackers.
8.Roll each ball
in the egg and then in the bread/cracker crumbs, until well coated with crumbs.
9.Fry the yuca
balls a second time, just until they are golden brown and crispy. Drain on
paper towels and serve warm with huancaína sauce for dipping. Note: Yuquitas can be kept warm in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes until ready to serve.
It's a misty Wednesday afternoon and the pigs are hard at
work. So is their porquero Juan Carlo, who's busy guiding them across this
1,700 acre farm to the land's choicest acorns. At sunrise, Juan Carlo rouses
about 340 pigs from their farmhouse and sets them to work. At sundown he
corrals them back to the ranch. This year marks his 25th on the job.
In a few weeks the pigs' work will be done: they'll be
sufficiently fattened up from their grazing to be slaughtered, butchered, and
turned into some of the most expensive ham in the world— jamon Iberico puro de
bellota, acorn-fed pure breed Iberico ham.
Acorn-fed jamon Iberico is intensely sweet. It's floral,
earthy, and nutty like good Parmesan, with fat so soft it melts right in your
The dehesa around the Sierra de Montanchez is rich with holm
and cork oak, cooled by the breezy Iberian climate, it is one of many across
Spain and Portugal, the pigs have a joyful life but finally end in a small
town called Montanchez where hams cure in jamoneras designed for the task. From
start to finish, the ham-making process is simple: grant good pigs the freedom
to be good pigs, let them feast on the land, then cure their flesh with little
more than salt and air.
For most eaters, that's where the story begins and ends. But
there's more to it—a process that blends unwavering tradition and modern
technology to produce this sought-after ham.
In the world of Spanish ham, there are two premium
classifications: Iberico pigs and acorn-fed pigs. Unlike white pig breeds like
Serrano, black-skinned Iberico pigs are descendants of the Mediterranean wild
boar, and are colloquially called pata negra("black foot") for the
hoof that accompanies each ham. They're athletic animals, runners and rooters,
and thanks to the structure of their intramuscular fat, their meat is more
flavorful, juicy, and distinctive.
Iberico pigs are expensive. They have smaller litters, yield
less meat per head, and take time to mature, which is why many ham producers
around Spain cross-bred them with other varieties. Up until recently, ham made
from pigs that were as little as half-Iberico could be sold as jamon Iberico,
but new legislation now requires Iberico ham to be labeled according to the
percentage of the pigs' Iberian ancestry.
Then there's the acorns, the bellota, which fall from oak
and cork trees from early October to early March on the farms where the pigs
are raised. They're high in fat, a large percentage of which is unsaturated
oleic fatty acid, and eating them is what makes the pigs' fat so soft and
creamy, on the verge of melting at room temperature. Acorns also contribute to
the ham's nutty flavor and aroma, as essential to the product as the meat
itself. Of all commercially raised Iberico pigs, only 5% are both pure breed
Spanish ham culture has a vocabulary all its own. There are
porqueros, not shepherds; pigs are "sacrificed," not slaughtered; and
the farms where they're raised are calleddehesas.
The dehesas are a national treasure: each one to two
thousand acres of forest partially converted to pasture, often hundreds of
years old, with rolling grassy hills amidst crops of acorn-producing oak and
cork trees. Just as acorns are an essential ingredient to the ham, so too are
the dehesas. These pigs need to run around all day, over the hills and through
the woods, for their muscles to develop and for the ham to taste the way it
Over 18 to 24 months, the pigs will root around the dehesa,
grazing on grass, mushrooms, bugs, herbs, whatever they can find. Come October
all through March, the montanara, or acorn-dropping season begins, and the pigs
march into action. Fatty acorns are the pigs' favorite food, and with a
mandated five acres of dehesa per pig, there's plenty of room to look for them.
By the pigs' second montanara, they'll have feasted enough to reach their kill
weight, about 360 pounds.
Managing the pigs isn't just left to nature, inspectors pay
anonymous visits every two to three weeks to check on their treatment and diet.
They also sample the pigs' fat to analyze its oleic acid content—too little and
the pigs won't meet quality standards, too much and they'll be impossible to
cure into ham.
You may have heard that pigs are as smart or even smarter
than dogs. On the dehesa they behave more like sheep dogs than sheep. Curious
about newcomers, they'd inch closer and closer to me, some even posing nicely
for the camera, before bolting away. Unlike livestock domesticated into
complicity, these wild boar descendants stay smart.
The curing tradition in Montanchez is centuries old: you can still see hundreds of hooks
on the ceilings of every old house from when ham was cured in the natural air
flow. Nowadays there are huge jamon drying barns, some climate controlled but many using the traditional methods.
Before they get there, the pigs must be slaughtered. They're
knocked out with CO2, and once a pig is deemed unconscious by a vet, a worker
slits the artery along its throat until it bleeds out. Legs, loins, and
shoulders go towards other products, the
remaining fresh meat is sold to restaurants. The ham-bound legs are then
skinned, salted, rinsed, dried, and sent to the curing cellar, where they'll
remain for about a year and a half.
Step into a jamon
bodega and you're slapped with an aroma that's something like rising bread,
aged cheese, and your deli's cured meat display—multiplied by the 40,000-odd
Thick brick walls, a breezy, hilly climate, and a stable
population of ham-friendly microorganisms are most of what the meat needs to
finish its journey into ham. Skilled specialists monitor the cellars at all
times, noting fluctuations in temperature and humidity, but their adjustments
are amusingly low-tech. Need to change the temperature? Open or close a window.
Air too dry? Spill some water on the floor.
It's more complicated than that, of course—hams too close to
a window may get moved if they dry out too quickly, and the legs are regularly
rubbed down with oil to prevent insects from taking up residence.
Before any ham leaves the cellar, it gets a sniff test. A
trained nose can purportedly detect 100 aromas from a premium ham, some sweet,
some meaty, some nutty. Different regions of Spain have their own hammy
terroir, and even different cuts of the same leg bear unique aromas.
With a short, stubby needle called a cala, the ham sniffer
pokes down to the bone, quickly takes a whiff, and covers the breach with a
smear of fat. There's just a second or two to detect the balance of sweet,
earthy, fermented, and floral aromas that signal a well-cured ham, and only a
ham that passes the sniff test in four inspection sites makes its way out the
door. If anything goes wrong, the nose knows.
From there the ham moves on to a grateful world, though in
truth many whole hams have already been spoken for by bars, restaurants, and
large-scale clients that reserve them while they're still aging. Jamon Iberico
shouldn't be sliced by machine—the soft fat would sheer out and the lean, bony
legs make horizontal slicing difficult.
Like cutting fish for
sushi in Japan, carving Spanish ham is an artisan job of its own. The perfect
slice is nearly see-through, small enough to eat in one bite, and carved at a
level angle to get the most consistent and efficient slices from the ham as
Remember how expert ham sniffers can detect four different
aromas from the same ham? You may not be able to pick up on all the nuances,
but it's easy to see that different cuts of ham look and feel different, from
the maza's clean striations of fat to the ribeye-like marbling of punta—or the
hard-to-reach "butcher's cut" of the ham, the chewy, flavor-packed
cana near the hoof. A skilled carver knows how to make the most of them all,
mixing up a plate of ham with multiple cuts for contrast.
Which brings us back to where we started: why does good
jamon Iberico cost so much? It's more than the expensive pigs, spacious
farmland, or acorn-rich diet. It's more than the time and investment needed to
prepare and cure hams properly, or the laboratory science and quality control
behind the scenes. In Montanchez there are many jamon shops and bars where you can sample the sublime product such as Casa Bautista, one of the oldest.
At the end of the day the question comes down to scale—how
much can you produce when every step along the way is so labor-intensive? What
substitute is there for highly trained specialists who in some cases are born
into the job?
Good pigs need time. And as with plenty of
other luxury goods, there's a choice to do something fast or to do it right.
Fortunately for us (and the pigs), there are still some people more interested
in the latter.