Tucked into a secluded corner of Alimentaria sat a selected number of brands in the "Premium" zone of the trade show. Included in this distinction was Joselito, a brand I've admired for some time and have had the pleasure of enjoying on various occasions. I can't speak for all, as I still have much of Spain and the world to explore, but the best of the best generally put Joselito at the top of the jamón and cured meats pyramid.
Although they don't allow advertising, Joselito's reputation has been backed by countless references from the nation's top chefs: Juan Mari Arzak, Ferran Adrià, Andoni Luis Aduritz and Quique Dacosta reaffirm and laud the characteristics, tradition, art, environmental and animal undertaking, as well as the simply joy of cooking with it and serving it to their restaurant guests.
If I was him, I wouldn't let go of that pata negra either! Source Joselito
It might be hard for an American, or even an Italian to understand Spain's love affair with this prized breed, or a maturation process of a "pig" so esteemed. In the States, it is only in the last few years (2007) that importation of the jamón ibérico de bellota has entered the country, and even still the percentage is so low, many have trouble getting their hands on it. Besides which Americans tend to be quite familiar with prosciutto, as a longer history exists of Italian immigrants bringing their marketing and comfort foods Stateside. I advise you however to never compare prosciutto to jamón ibérico, unless you are looking for an argument or heated debate with a hot-blooded Spaniard.
A pure Iberian pig - often recognized as black with black hooves, but not exclusively - has been gallivanting the peninsula for centuries and its origins trace back to ancient breeds. Today the zone in which Joselito is based out of, Guijuelo, outside of Salamanca in Spain's Castile & Leon community, houses the maturing (curación) process of the business. Here, a Joselito Gran Reserve ham leg, for example, will mature at least 36 months to five years covered in sea salt - depending on the size of the leg and the taste they are striving to achieve.
The key differentiating factor between jamón ibérico and jamón ibérico de bellota is the diet and treatment of the animal; I mean to say that something can be labeled Iberian, but not have received a life equivalent to one that Joselito's pigs receive and certainly not one made up of quality feed or spacious roaming grounds. Their pigs can be found foraging the almost virgin landscape (as far as human construction and interference are concerned) in Extremadura, in the Dehesa, which is made up of rolling woodlands and acorn laden forests. From September til roughly January, February and even into March, before their slaughter, the pigs will gorge themselves underneath the holm oak and cork oak trees of the terrain. They will forget the long, hot and dry summers when less food was available to them and participate in the montanera, fattening themselves on roughly 20 pounds of acorns and some 8 pounds of grass daily; they may also find mushrooms, truffles or larval insects. To support this luxurious diet, which will increase the pig's weight by a pound and a half daily, each ibérico relies on four acres of land - equating a final result and weight of 360 to 400 pounds per animal. It is important to note that the offering and output of the Gran Reserva and other Joselito products changes annually, with close consideration to climate change, presence of bellota (acorns) found in the woodlands and birthrates.
The true test to this pampering can be tasted in the final product, where diet, length of the maturation process and potentially salt components play a role in the ham-plate-to-mouth test. Joselito was very kind to offer me a seat at their Master Class and tasting at Alimentaria 2012, and the outcome was spellbinding.
The hind legs of the jamón are placed into a jamonero, ham stands, that allow the master cortador, to cut precisely, from top to bottom, left to right, and finally dandole la vuelta, turning it around to cut the underside. It may look easy, but cutting ham is a highly revered task, that requires training and above all practice.
Set aside for us to bring alive our senses of smell were small bottles of sea salt, the same salt which had sat in the salting room with the maturing jamón.
Attentive guests listening with mouths watering for the jamón tasting to begin.
2008 Batch. Smooth with a smoky finish in the mouth.
In the Joselito Gran Reserva 2005 we tasted notes of hazelnut. Something this delicious can also be considered good for you? The fat of the meat holds oleic acid, a fatty component packed with monounsaturated omega-9, the same as found in avocados or olive oil - simply put, the good fat.
Have you ever seen fat so beautiful!!???
A crowd pleaser, 2005 Gran Reserva Vintage. Deep color - yet should be mentioned that every jamón cut allows for a different look, taste and feel, no two are the same - with a smoky flavor that was described to us as "umami," the aftertaste of the fat that sits on your upper mouth and tongue.
A close up of the 2005 Gran Reserva Vintage. Exquisite balance of flavor, a perfectly cured meat.
Also sampled at the Joselito's Premuim stand that day was carretillas, or pork jowl braised in its au jus, from the prestigious Iberico. Phenomenal!
For my fellow estadounidenses, Joselito is working day and night to get jamón to you, however as you might have imagined the FDA is making things rather difficult for them. A real pity that such craftsmanship can be looked down upon by our industrialized model of meat consumption. Although, they will continue to battle the hurdles put in front of them and hope to have the product available for US sales by the end of 2013. Meanwhile, my advice to all those coming to Spain is to get yourself to a specialty charcutería - meat shop - and have the cortador slice you, ever so finely, a few hundred grams from the pata negra of a Joselito.
If you are lucky enough to be in their newly opened markets of Mexico and China, or the 51 other countries they are present in - pig out!
A huge thank you to Marc and the Joselito team for their assistance, eagerness to help and for providing a first class experience.