My first trip to Europe was five years ago, (although it feels like 15) I was on an Importers wine buying trip that lasted 25 days, most of which was all over France but there was a little break if you will in the Spanish town of Girona, about an hour outside Barcelona. I was traveling with the owner of Beaune Imports, Michael Sullivan, (whose home in Girona we would be crashing in) two other retailers and Sonya Chun our then sales rep for Beaune Imports.
There I was, my first trip to Europe crammed in a minivan with strangers, wearing the same clothes in various combinations, meeting winemakers, going to dinners, sleeping for less than 4 hours a night, missing my family and loving every freaking second of it! I only slept 4 hours because I could not wait for the next day to begin, I would awake with my heart pounding and a fire that would catapult me to the shower, (and a word about the showers...pretty much the only thing I loathe about France) and I would sit on the edge of the beds in my tiny rooms watching the clock waiting for a reasonable hour to run down and meet everyone for breakfast. I was basically a big dumb puppy, thankfully no one pet me as I may have messed the floor.
As fun as it all was we were all pretty relieved when we got to Girona, there was a washing machine, (no dryer and can I just say when you are chunky it takes a long time for the ol' jeans to dry) and we could just relax a little. Michael took us into town to hit up the market to get food for dinner and lunch the next day, I watched him make a beeline for the counter that was piled with various shapes and styles of pork. I hung back as not to invade our fearless leaders space but was curious as to what got this mild mannered, seen it all kind of guy acting like a kid that had just been given twenty-five cents at the penny candy counter.
Back at the house I helped unload, you know to be nice but really to see what kind of pork he had procured for us. As he pulled it out of the bag I felt the corners of my mouth turn down and my forehead crinkle, "He got that jazzed over Prosciutto?" I thought....hmmmm...must investigate. "So what you got there Michael Sullivan?" I inquired, "some kind of ham?" I asked with hope in my voice, hope that there were more to it than that! He cocked his head, lowered his brow, looked at me almost sideways with a slight smirk on his face, "It's Iberico" he stated flatly while waiting to see if any flash of recognition would show on my face, "Is that like Serrano?" I asked. "Well it comes from a pig and is cured but the similarities end there".
I still don't know to this day if he gave me a piece to teach me or if he could no longer stand the befuddled look on my face, don't care, doesn't matter for that was the day I had my first piece of, "magic pork". "Here, taste it" Michael told me and I promptly popped a thin square in my pile hole, the second it hit my tongue I could taste and almost sweet porky flavor, severe nuttiness and just the right amount of game and salt and then just like Kaiser Sauze it was gone.
The perfect piece of porky goodness had just melted away, you gotta love meat you don't have to chew! "It is like cotton candy only not sweet and without the yucky grainy texture" I told him to which he cocked his head once again, shook it a bit and went back to futzing about the kitchen.
Iberico is by far and away one of the finest cured meats on the planet and it is finally here both in the US and here at The Wine Country!
I got me some "magic melt away" ham...how bout you?!
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