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Spain's best ham-available all day at Chef Jessie this November.

There are hams and there are hams, but the one that you should never pass up is the jamon Iberico-the jewel in Spain's culinary crown.

This exquisite ham starts its life as black-footed pigs roaming around in merry abandon while grazing on acorns that fall from the cork and oak trees, somewhere in Spain's ecologically balanced Dehesa region.

While there are different grades of Iberico ham, the best is said to be Cinco Jotas, or 5J. Its ham comes only from 100-percent purebred Iberico pigs, says maestro cortador Michael Lopez Teves, the first Filipino master carver of jamon Iberico.

Characterized by their dark skin, sharp snout, floppy ears and long, lean muscular legs, the purebred pigs possess a gene that allows them to build up fat between their muscles, according to Cinco Jotas.

Thus, the ham contains streaks of fat interspersed with the meat, much like a well-marbled steak.

However, this type of fat is not to be disdained because, thanks to the pigs' diet of acorns, the fat is unsaturated and contains vitamin B and Omega 3, which are said to be good for the heart.

The hams are cured only with natural sea salt from the Atlantic, and the curing process is helped by the fresh mountain air in the Jabugo region. It can take as long as 36 months to cure a leg of ham, says Michael.

30 legs of ham

This November, this prized ham will be available all day at Chef Jessie restaurant, Rockwell, Makati, carved by Michael and his brother Mark, who's also a maestro cortador.

Ordered per gram and hand-carved by the tableside, the jamon Iberico will be available until supply lasts, says chef Jessie Sincioco, the supply being the 30 legs of ham that were brought in by Michael from Spain.

'It took six days for the hams in the cellar of Cinco Jotas in Jabugo to reach Manila,' says Michael, which is impressive, considering the long distance it traveled between the two countries.

It's anyone's guess how long these supplies will last, with the way customers have been gobbling them up. And although it's costly, some people have even ordered whole legs of ham for their own consumption, says Michael.

The hams all have MCF Seleccion Privada security tags, which means they have been carefully selected by the Maestro Cortador Filipino 'to make sure that we are giving the best to our customers.'

To carve the ham, the Lopez brothers have brought in Arcos knives, a renowned brand of knives from Albacete, Spain. The portions are served in handcrafted blue ceramic plates with antique design, made by La Cartuja de Sevilla, which has been manufacturing plates since 1841.

Distinctive taste

So, how does a ham of such distinctive origin taste? People have described it as 'nutty,' 'life-changing,' 'amazing.' It is all that, and more.

Perhaps because of the long, patient curing it undergoes, the ham has a mature taste. It's like a person who has acquired wisdom through the years, the legs of ham built their layers of flavors over the years from the earth, from the sea, from the air.

Hence, it's succulent, yet melts ever so gently on the taste buds, yielding a flavor that's lush, slightly sweet and mildly salty. It's both intense and subtle, earthy and heavenly, sensual and celestial. It's a ham with a personality, a ham that has character.

Chef Jessie Rockwell Club, G/L, Amorsolo Square, Amorsolo Drive, Rockwell Center, Makati; tel. 8907630, 8906543, 7290122
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Nov 16, 2017
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