American Jamón Ibérico: love at first bite?

by mary on January 22, 2013

They caught my eye immediately…beautiful pig legs, glistening with fat….that familiar smell…heaven for someone in the ibérico desert! I was in Union market and I saw the whole legs first and then packages of cured ham slices that really resembled Spanish jamón visually. It turned out they were indeed cured 20 months and were from pigs that were American raised but had 50% ibérico race bloodline…so exciting! Bev Eggleston is the man and he runs Eco Friendly Foods, an operation specializing in sustainable and humanely raised livestock. Pretty amazing operation, but the jamón still had to go through my taste test…..

They have lots more products but I was really focused on the cured ham from the “ibérico” heritage pigs. He said found the ibérico pigs on an island off the Georgia coast and then bred them with other races. Bev says their race characteristics are so strong that even with 50% bred out, the pigs still retain a lot of the breed characteristics. He explained that crossing them helped eliminate their less economically desirable characteristics: slow-growing and small size.

Back story: these are the Ossabaw Heritage pig race descended directly from iberico pigs and brought to the Ossabaw Islands by the Spanish in the 1500s. In isolation and feral, the breed had little interaction with humans or domestic pigs, which preserved the race. They have retained many of the characteristics of their forebearers, and are considered a very valuable, but challenging and therefore endangered heritage breed. They retain fat differently and more than other races and have an intense flavored, red meat with an unusual texture….sound familiar to ibérico lovers everywhere? Due to island life they are smaller than the ibérico race…the adults come in at under 200lbs.

These are free range animals so they feed off the land, including acorns, but they don't have an acorn exclusive diet as the “bellota” category of ibéricos would in Spain. This jamón did have the tyrosine crystal inclusions typical of Spanish jamón ibérico….these come from a long, slow, quality aging process and are a promising indicator of quality!

He also had less cured styles, which more resemble speck. I guess some people are still not turned on to this intense 20-month cure style. But I think it is becoming more popular. Not only those who travel to Spain are exposed to it, but you can try it in all the Spanish restaurants cropping up everywhere.

I was sold! Bev is a great guy, super enthusiastic and full of passionate about his products. He generously provided me with a package to try….I also picked up some of his some of his bacon, fresh chorizo sausage, and a super interesting porchetta type roll he said was made from head parts. Really an amazing selection of meats…and I just focused on the pork…there were many more meats and types of poultry available.

As I open the thin envelope…I had an initial moment of disappointment. The smell was good, clean, hammy (!), but it smelled more like jamón serrano. Jamón serrano is cured Spanish ham from white pigs' not form the ibérico race. It can be quite delicious but there is no comparison with jamón ibérico! We had let it come up to room temperature so the cured meat glistened nicely. It had good red color, which is good for ibérico, a few tyrosine crystals, and good fat marbleling. Then are my fears disappeared as I layed a piece on my tongue. It had that disntinctive richness, earthiness, silkiness that comes from good ibérico. Great texture, very good taste, long finish. A very nice jamón!

This is really exciting…US ibérico pork! Bev says he is the only one making jamón with this race in the US. I think this has great potential, not only for cured meats, but for fresh pork. If you have never tried fresh ibérico pork…the difference with regular pork is night and day!

Of course, ibérico pigs raised in the US will not taste the same as the ones from Spain, that the beauty of origen, but they are still really lovely! Also just as amazing is to find an operation where the animals are treated humanely, this makes me appreciated the products even more!

PS. The bacon and porchetta were amazing too!

 

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