Like a unicorn, jamón ibérico de bellota, the indigenous cured ham of Spain, has achieved mythic status. It comes from a black-hoofed breed that feasts on acorns, the dry-cured meat fragrant and nutty, the fat of exceptionally luxurious quality. Between this ultra-pedigreed Spanish breed and its brethren—Jamón Serrano and American variants—there’s been much confusion. Now, with more discriminating palates encouraging distributors, the United States is becoming a new market.
SMU alum Ricardo Sieveking’s family first brought Jamón Ibérico to Mexico, opening five outposts of Enrique Tomás, a Spanish-based restaurant and premium ham purveyor with more than 100 locations around the world. This winter, the family brought the first U.S. location to Dallas.
It’s the selection process that distinguishes Enrique Tomás. Although the business that opened 40 years ago raises some of its own pigs, it also gets first pick of other premium producers, including Cinco Jotas, arguably the gold standard for Iberian ham.
The two-story bodega-restaurant on Henderson serves tapas, jamón-laced plates, and wine, and it is your avenue for whole legs. If you indulge in a whole leg—the jamón (back leg) or paleta (front leg)—for a party, they’ll send one of their handful of cortadors, expert carvers. Mere mortals can’t be trusted. (It’s scheduled to open to the public on January 28.)
Jamóns (16–18 pounds) and paletas (13–15 pounds) cost $18–$60 per pound, depending on the pedigree category.
A well-mixed plate, carved by a skilled cortador, features a sampling from all parts of a leg, ranging from sweet to chewy, fatty to intense.
1. Caña The part closest to the hoof is chewy, with a concentrated flavor.
2. Jarrete The shank is firm and chewy, with an intense, sometimes spicy flavor.
3. Babilla Aromatic and darker in color, this part has the least fat.
4. Maza The largest portion of the leg has a soft, unctuous texture and mild, sweet flavor.
5. Punta The tip is the sweetest, most marbled portion, like a rib-eye.
The various classifications all come down to breed and feed.
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota
This black-hoofed 100 percent Iberian breed is free ranging, finished on acorns (bellotas), and cured at least 36 months. It’s intense, complex, sweet, and nutty in flavor, with prized soft, flavorful fat.
Where to find: Nosh Bistro, Knife, The Ritz-Carlton Club Level, Enrique Tomás
Jamón Ibérico Cebo de Campo
A mixed breed (at least 50 percent Iberian) that is pasture finished and cured for 24 months.
Where to find: Enrique Tomás
Jamón Serrano or simply Jamón Ibérico
The purely white, nonindigenous Iberian breed is grain fed and cured 18–24 months.
Where to find: Si Tapas, Knife, Enrique Tomás
American-bred and raised dry-cured pork
In Dallas, we have a few skilled charcuterie whisperers who are curing heritage-breed pork and thinking creatively (with koji-spore curing and extra flavors that enhance the meat).
Where to find: Macellaio, Lucia, Petra and the Beast