The other evening, we (Ant and I) were lucky enough to attend the first Brindisa Iberico Ham carving school at Salt House Tapas, which is probably my absolute favourite restaurant in Liverpool, well that and Puschka) hosted by the great staff at Salt House and by Mario Hiraldo Regalado, the Master Carver from Brindisa in London. Mario has been working for Brindisa for a couple of years but has been training for over 10 years in Iberico ham, he hails from the South West of Spain and there is nothing this man doesn’t know about spanish hams.
I love Serrano and Iberico ham but I didn’t know a huge amount about it. My uncle, Elias, who lives in Galicia cures his own and on our last trip to Spain, he emerged into the kitchen carrying a whole leg of ham from which he carved fine slices of perfect ham. I was hooked.
We sat down to a lovely table full of people keen to learn lots and try lots of ham! There were glasses of Cava and plates of those wonderful green bitter chillies, sugared beans, manchego and membrillo and olives. Ant and I were sitting next to a great couple who had actually married in Spain and spoke beautiful Spanish and we were very excited about our evening of learning more. We then had to sign a form in case we suffered extreme injury!
Mario began the evening by explaining the differences between Serrano and Iberico. Serrano is made from a white pig, the breed includes the Middle White which we use a lot of in this country, and Mario explained that this was why as a nation we prefer Serrano ham as it tastes closer to the pork that we’re used to. It’s cured for a minimum of 18 months and fed cereal. This is the main difference with Iberico ham which is cured for a minimum of 3 years and fed on a diet of acorns, worms and the delicious things found by them rooting around the woods in Dehesa and Extramadura.
There is quite clear difference in flavour, the Serrano is milder and sweeter, while the Iberico is gutsy, almost chestnutty which makes sense when you see, and taste, the acorns they eat. They’re nothing like our small and bitter acorns but nutty and rather sweet. The Iberico ham was the clear winner for me, which makes sense as it’s also the most expensive and I have cruelly expensive tastes. We tasted the ham with a chilled sherry which Mario explained would create the perfect heat in our mouths to melt the ham fat and create an even more wonderful flavour. He wasn’t wrong.
At this point, we split into two groups, one to taste wines and one to try carving our own ham. Mario explained that we should open our ham by the carving the babilla and to remove the fat which can taste acrid and has been sitting open to the elements for at least 3 years. Mario advised us to hold the ham by the clip holding the hoof and to carve in thin slices from the punta (by the hip) to the hoof. The skill being ensuring the ham is carved flat with no waves or ruts. Mario also taught us to carve around the hip bone to ensure we got the most from the ham and how to carve the sweet meat from by the ankle. It was then our turn to carve. Ant volunteered first and he did an excellent job of carving, which he should as he’s a chef! He did however sustain a slight injury which meant it was my turn!
The Serrano ham was easier to carve, the meat was softer and smoother which makes sense as it’s more of a domestic pig. The Iberico wasn’t so easy to carve, the slices came out thicker. Mario said I was an excellent carver and offered me a job, alas I think he was being complimentary! I have to say I was impressed with my own carving, I’d have given myself a job!
After carving our ham and Mario wrapping it up for us to take home, we swapped with the other group to try a selection of wine with the chaps who supply the wines to Salt House. They had selected two white wines and two red wines and I made notes so I could remember what we had tasted.
- Orballo, Albarino, 2010, Rias Baixas, N West Spain – a citrussy, buttery, white with a natural acidity, it made us think of oranges and we were told that this was because the grapes are grown in an Atlantic climate.
- Mas Macia, Xarello, 2010, nr Barcelona – this was peachy and creamy with much less acidity, the vanilla flavour was imparted by the barrels and was grown in a Mediterranean climate.
- Vega Piedra, Joven Rioja, 2009 – this was a light red, tasting of berries and vanilla. The tannin was soft and the flavours were of black and red fruits.
- Senorio de Sarria, Navarra Crianza, 2008 – this was a purple colour, with the flavour of cedar and a woody character, Navarra is cooler than Rioja.
A cooler climate means less alcohol, fewer legs on the inside of the glass and less sugar.
We also learned the differences between Crianza, 6 months in oak and a year in bottle, Reserva, 1 year oak and 1 year in bottle, and Gran Reserva, 1 year oak and 2 years in bottle.
It was such an interesting night and we felt that we learned lots about both ham and wines. Ant who is a reluctant red wine drinker found a wine he liked and Mario was such an excellent raconteur and speaker. We left with a goody bag containing our ham, some delicious almonds and olives, the recipe for our favourite croquettes and a voucher for our next trip to Salt House.
I would absolutely recommend the evening as a present or just for fun. They’re held in London but the next one in Liverpool is in May and I must admit, I’d go again. A wonderful night.