Firstly, apologies for the delay of this post but blogger was being naughty on Friday and I was busy being craftyyesterday. So without any more delay, here is dish 4 of the tapas feast.
No tapas spread is complete without a selection of cured meats and cheeses. This is not a recipe post but more a guide to what to include on your selection of meats and cheeses.
In Spain, the pig is king. They use all parts of the animal, as every good nation should, and it is quite common in rural areas for families to have an annual pig sacrifice to ensure a supply of meat through the year. The annual matanza is where the families spend 3 days creating all manner of products using every inch of the animal for their consumption during the 3 day fiesta or throughout the following months. To ensure a years supply of products, a large proportion of the meat is air-cured. The legs are cured to create Jamon.
There are two types of Jamon in Spain and the difference is due to the breed of pig used.
Jamon Serrano is from the white pig, and is named from the high altitudes the drying and curing processes occur at, as it literally translates as mountain ham.This represents over 90% of the ham produced in Spain.
Jamon Iberico is from the black Iberican pig from the southwest parts of Spain, sometimes called pata negra from the black hoof that typifies the breed. Due to the higher levels of fat in the meat, they can be cured for a longer period of time, resulting in a more complex, intense flavour with an unparralleled sweetness. The ultimate hams are known as bellota from the acorns the pigs feed on in the autumn before they are prepared for curing. The smaller and more intensive level of production means it is more expensive than Jamon Serrano but in my opinion (and I imagine everyone who has tried both) deservedly so.
|Jamon Serrano and Jamon Iberico – courtesy of Orce Serrano Hams|
In the UK supermarkets you can normally get your hands on some Jamon Serrano, though I was a little surprised by the blank look on the ladies face behind the delicatessen in my local Sainsbury’s the other day, normally a supermarket with a wide range of products!! Also it is much tastier (any normally cheaper) if purchased off the deli than from the prepared packs. I haven’t located Jamon Iberico in any of my local supermarkets but believe some Waitrose stores may stock it.
The best, but rather indulgent way, is to order in a Jamon from Orce Serrano Hams. They sell a wide range of full leg hams and other artisan products and provide you with all the information you need to get the best experience. It’s next to do on my foodie wish list!
To match it’s diverse range of culinary styles Spain has a huge range of cheeses. Each region produces several varieties of cheese, each one unique depending on the type of milk used (sheep, cow, goat or a mix), the method of production, the traditions and the ageing and curing processes. Sadly, the majority of Spanish cheeses cannot be easily found in the UK, with the only one that is readily available in UK supermarkets being Manchego.
Manchego is made from the milk of the Manchega sheep in La Mancha, the plateau that covers the central region of Spain and is protected by a Denominacion de Origin (D.O) that ensures the cheese is produced in this area and in a certain way. There are different varieties of Manchego, depending on the age. The type found in UK supermarkets is Curado which means it is a semi-firm cheese which has been aged for 3-6 months and has a sweet and nutty flavour. It is perfect for tapas as it not a cheese that requires an accompaniment, except perhaps a glass of Rioja.
Should you be lucky enough to live near a decent Cheesemongers then other spanish cheeses to note are:
Cabrales: a blue cheese from the mountains of Picos de Europa, Northern Spain. It is traditionally matured in the limestone caves that are typical of the region.
Torta el Casar– sheep cheese from Extremadura, with a soft centre and a strong flavour.
Tetilla– meaning little tit due to its breast like shape, it is a cows milk cheese which is mild and creamy.
Ham and Cheese – the perfect combination in any cuisine but even better done the Spanish way.
Back soon with the final day of the tapas trail.