When is a sandwich no longer a sandwich?

When it is made with Jamon Iberico Bellota. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have had some of this stunning and expensive ham, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you who haven’t been so lucky, you have no idea what you are missing.

Jamon Iberico Bellota is also often called Pata Negra, which translates as “black hoof” in Spanish. This is because the ham is made from Cerdo Iberico, or Black Iberian pigs. Most of it comes from Spain; there is also a small amount hailing from Portugal. There are actually 3 grades of ham made from these pigs. The lowest, simply called Jamon Iberico, is made from pigs that have been fed on grain. The middle, called Jamon Iberico de Recebo, is made from pigs fed on cereals and acorns. Jamon Iberico Bellota is the highest. These free-range pigs are first reared on corn and barley and then taken to forests to feed solely on acorns (hence the name — bellota means acorn). When most gourmands speak about Pata Negra, they are usually only referring to this highest grade of ham.

That said, only 5% of all Spanish hams qualify as (one of the three grades of) Jamon Iberico. Jamon Serrano is much cheaper and more common. While you often need to go to a gourmet purveyor or specialist for Jamon Iberico, you should be able to find Jamon Serrano in most supermarkets.

I first tasted this luxurious delicacy about a decade ago. A friend of a friend had brought some back from Spain and generously offered to serve some to us. Of course, back then, I didn’t know what it was. So, when he placed a plate of sliced ham on the dining room table, I was a little disappointed. Given how much our host had hyped his acquisition, I had expected something that looked a little more spectacular. Then I tasted it. And was totally blown away.

Since then, S and I have been hooked — one might even call us obsessed. The silly folks at the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore have still not approved the importation of Pata Negra, i.e. we can’t get it here in Singapore. That means that the only time we get to have some is when we travel or our friends travel. Fortunately, we have a good network of friends who love the stuff as much as we do and are always happy to carry back a pack for us.

Jamon Iberico Bellota is beautiful. It’s savory, sexy, slightly oily, and sinfully rich. Sliced thinly and served with some vintage Champagne, it is the perfect starter to an amazing dinner. Or plate it with some crusty bread and it’s a great and very special lunch.

My favourite place to eat (and buy) Pata Negra is Bellota-Bellota in Paris (18 rue Jean Nicot, 75007 Paris, Tel: 01 53 59 96 96). I really like that you can sample various versions of this prized ham from different farms and regions in Spain. What constantly amazes me is how different the hams taste. They come from the same breed of pigs, yet the hams have noticeable distinctions. Some are nuttier than others; others are a bit sweeter; while others are saltier or oilier.

Another amazing place to eat Jamon Iberico Bellota is L’Atelier de Robuchon. I once had lunch in the Paris branch and was witness to the most amusing exchange. Sitting to my left (at the counter) were three distinguished and mature gentlemen. The one in the middle was obviously the host. He was ordering for both himself and his friends. To start their meal, he had ordered a large platter of Pata Negra. When it was served, his friends were eager to tuck in right away. The host, however, had other ideas and quickly stopped his friends, explaining to them in the most serious manner that ham this good could only be enjoyed with the very best Champagne. He signalled to the restaurant’s sommelier and asked for a bottle of Dom Perignon. Glasses were placed on the counter and a bottle produced. The sommelier poured out a small taste for the host to sample. The gentleman’s guests kept staring at the Pata Negra. I swear that I think I saw one of them drool just a little. They were ready to pounce the second their glasses were going to be filled. But then, horror of all horrors, their host proclaimed that the DP wasn’t chilled enough. We would have to wait, he told his companions. And wait they did, for a good 20 minutes or so, while the bubbly reached the right temperature. Those 20 minutes must have been torture for the two guests. The Pata Negra platter was sitting in front of them the entire time, tempting them mercilessly. If it were me, I would have said, “cold Champagne be damned” and stuffed my face with the ham.

S and I have been very lucky recently. We’ve received several packets of Portuguese Pata Negra from some very dear friends who now live in Macau. This morning, we decided to devour one of them. S had bought some excellent, par-baked, French sesame-seed baguettes from L’Organic (pop them in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 220 degrees Celsius and they are ready). We spread some yummy beurre echire on the baguette and stuffed it with the Pata Negra and some capers (to add a touch of acidity). S had wanted to create a slightly more upmarket version of the ham and butter baguette sandwiches that she insisted on eating every morning on our last trip to Paris.

On a final note, S and I are really quite excited because we’ll soon be making our very first trip to Spain. We’ve just been asked by some good friends if we wanted to join them for dinner at a certain, very special restaurant in Catalonia. We can’t wait. Not just for the meal but also to visit La Boqueria in Barcelona. We’ve been told it’s arguably the coolest market in the world. And a great place to pick up as much Pata Negra as we can carry back.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his two kids!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Next Post

Previous Post


Want regular updates on fresh content? Subscribe to our newsletter here.

31 Comments

  1. w. 16 March 2008

    Cool stuff! I’m heading to Spain in April too, and I really haven’t researched the trip as much as I should have. Thanks for the inadvertent reminder πŸ™‚

  2. Vivilcious 16 March 2008

    Jamon Jamon! Just the mere thought of bellota makes me drooool! Do you know which shop in Macau to buy this at? May have to send a shopping list with hubby who is off on a biz trip there soon… I think I also would have told the gent at Robuchon to stuff waiting and attacked the platter immediately! πŸ˜‰

  3. Bianca 16 March 2008

    La Boqueria is definitely one of the coolest foodplaces I have ever been to, I thought I was in heaven :)) It is also the place were I tasted and bought Pata Negra for the first time in my life and boy was it good πŸ™‚

    Have fun!

  4. cheryl 17 March 2008

    i remember this ham from tv. I think Bourdain ate some and was blown away. Pampered pigs make the yummiest ham!

  5. Jessica 17 March 2008

    I would be travelling soon to Macau, and hope to be able to buy some pata negra to try as they sound absolutely heavenly! I couldn’t find any info over the web, so could you please let me know the name and address of the place where your friends in Macau have purchased the pata negra? Your help will be very, very appreciated! πŸ™‚

  6. Hon Tym 17 March 2008

    Hi. Am a huge fan of the makanan in Barcelona, and if I may be so bold as to recommend some places – would be interested to hear your thoughts if you get to try them… Catch an early lunch/brunch at La Boqueira (without doubt my favourite market in the world too) – look for the tiny but venerable PINOTXO bar, run by 73 year old Juanito and his nephew Alberto. It’s located just inside the Las Ramblas entrance to the market. All their ingredients are fresh from the stalls, and Alberto’s rustic dishes are muy estupendo in their simplicity. Just keep ordering (ask Juanito to recommend) and try to ignore the queue behind you! As for Pata Negra, may I also recommend the deli La Botifarreria de Santa Maria (C/Santa Maria 4), opposite the Santa Maria del Mar cathedral. Enjoy! Hon Tym

  7. David Koh 17 March 2008

    OMG! Are you going to El Bulli? You and Su-Lyn really live the ideal foodie lifestyle. Bring back lots of pictures!

  8. L 18 March 2008

    IS it El Bulli?? The moment I read the word Catalonia, I instantly thought of El Bulli. Looks like someone else thought the exact same thing I did. I am studying in Spain for a month in August (2 weeks in Madrid and 2 weeks in Barcelona). I’d love to hear your recommendations and hope to see a post about your trip to Spain!

  9. Chubby Hubby 18 March 2008

    Viv and Jessica: Our friend who got it for us is a chef. He said it came from one of his suppliers. I’ll find out if they sell retail and will post the address here asap.

    Hon Tym: Thanks for the recommendations!

    David and L: Yup! We’re finally going to eat at El Bulli.

  10. tigerfish 18 March 2008

    I think I sound like an idiot but it’s my first hearing about Pata Negra. But I love the idea of free-range pigs πŸ™‚ Hmm…..Taiwan offers black pigs too but I BET, they are non-free-range.

  11. Weylin 18 March 2008

    Ai, the post brought back good eating memories. What is the ham and butter baguette in Paris? Might go in mid year, would like to try it for breakfast too.

  12. SJ 18 March 2008

    Ah, Ballota Ballota! Was there 2 years ago and actually ate in their downstairs cellar/room. 4 tables, seats only about 10-12 (very crammed). We had Gaspacho and a mixed selections of ham including Ballota. Will be back in Paris in 2 weeks and certainly back to Ballota Ballota.

  13. S 18 March 2008

    Hi everyone,
    Here’s our friend M’s update on buying pata negra in Macau:
    “The supermarket he supplies an incredible selection of Pata Negra and Portuguese wines and ports to is called Pavilions Supermercado, on 429 Avenida Praia Grande. They have a good selection there, but their prices are really really high (The top grade DOP pata negra is MOP208 per 100g).”

    Happy ham hunting!

  14. Peech 18 March 2008

    Enjoy your meal at El Bulli. I was lucky to have celebrated my birthday there 2 years ago…and we closed the restaurant that evening. We basically did everything Bourdain did during the episode of “Decoding Ferran Adria”…went to Jaminisimo and carried back packets and blocks of jamon iberico bellota, had seafood at Rafa’s in Roses…all wonderful stuff

  15. popagandhi 19 March 2008

    you’re going to El Bulli, after all! that makes three of us πŸ™‚ looking forward to the jamon iberico, too. i can’t wait!

  16. nek0 19 March 2008

    JamΓ³n!! I don’t envy you too much about that (I got a Joselito paletilla for Xmas) but… I totally do about El Bulli! Have been trying for years but… Mr. AdriΓ‘ doesn’t want me πŸ™

    Are you going anywhere else in Spain other than Catalonia?

    Greetings from Spain,
    nek0

  17. Katherine 19 March 2008

    You MUST get a professional ham slicer. I swear that the taste is altered/enhanced according to the thickness. Best present I ever got my own chub hub. The number of envious gazes he gets from oddly male friends – must be something about a man and his ham slicer!

  18. Kirstin 19 March 2008

    Jamon Iberico is so delicious that I couldn’t bear to put it on bread when in Barcelona. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of it and my mouth.
    Food for thought- the Iberico piggies live their life munching on the fallen acorns from cork trees and are played soothing classical music to sooth their nerves and hearts before they are sacrificed in our gastronomic honor. Thats a pretty good life for a pig in our industrial times!

  19. Chubby Hubby 19 March 2008

    Katherine: what model/make did you get for your hubby? We really want to get one as well but we’re not sure what the best one for home use might be.

  20. DocChuck 20 March 2008

    Congratulations on you upcoming trip to Barcelona. I’m pretty sure you will be blown away by the La Boqueria. My wife and I could have spent a couple of days exploring the market. Unfortunately, we only had three hours.

    Enjoy the wonderful food, and especially the ham. But, be prepared for “currency shock”. The US$ is looked upon with disdain of sorts . . . and it was substantially more valuable (ratio-wise) when we were there (last fall) than it is now.

    Best to put all purchases on your Bank’s ATM card (or secondly, on a credit card) . . . and let THEM sort it out the exchange rate for you.

    Have a great trip!

  21. Denise 25 March 2008

    We just got back from Spain for Spring Break. My friends absolutely adore Pinotxo Bar at Del Mercado de La Boqueria. Go say hi to Senor Juan and ask for one of his to-die-for “xuxo” pastries and caffe con leche. My roommate had always been a sans-oil sans-fat sans-fried stuff kind of girl until she came there. We ended up running there every morning for breakfast ~.~ They open until 4 PM daily. But the xuxo runs out fast! By the way, Senor Juan LOVES his pictures taken.
    The bar also serves heavy meals in the morning; from seafood to pasta to oxtail. This one time, when they were running out of my prawn, they just took it from the nearby stand and fry the poor prawn in front of us with its feelers waving helplessly from the hot oily pan. I must tell you, it was just too good I have no guilt eating it whatsoever. Freshness guaranteed.

  22. Carmen 1 April 2008

    I totally agree Jamon Iberico is just the best. However, as a Catalan I am, we will eat it with “pa amb tomaquet” bread with rubbed fresh tomato and garlic (optional). When in Barcelona, please try it. I am from Barcelona and even I loved Asian food (any gourmet food too really) I must admit I miss so much some of the tapas and real Spanish food. I see they have already recommend you Pinotxo, please go you can not miss it. There is no menu so you have to trust them, go early 12.30,1.00 p.m. which is really early for Catalans to eat try to sit down (only stools) if you are lucky and look at what people are eating. Can not miss there the “cigroms amb butifarra negra” (Chick peas with black sausage) and have a glass or two of cava with your meal (catalan champagne). If you have time one of the best places for authentic tapas is “El Vaso de Oro” in Barceloneta district. Again go early lunch or dinner always packed. No menu again, just point out. Can not miss the “entrecot with foie”!!! Enjoy it. Can not wait to hear all your culinary experiences !!!
    Carmen

  23. Phil Pham 9 April 2008

    Check out Origins 99 if you’re in Barcelona. Great local Catalan food there.

  24. loneykitchen 10 April 2008

    Once you try Jamon Iberico Bellota, you will be hooked on it just like me. I was able to get some at City Super (Harbour City) in Hongkong just a few weeks ago at HK$200 per 100gms. Beware of who carves the ham, as the one who did it for us didn’t have the faintest idea how to do it and practically shredded it. In Manila, it is also available at Terry’s Deli and they do carry the Joselito Jamon Iberico Bellota.

  25. whiffandasip 23 April 2008

    Read this post on Spanish hams and immediately rifled through my file on what type of ham platter I had in Rockpool Melbourne. Surprise! it was Joselito Jamon Iberico and I don’t even remember what it tasted like. Glad to read from lonelykitchen that it’s available here in Manila. I have to try it again. =)

  26. Venny 4 May 2008

    I must admit that I was a little skeptical when I read this post. As it happened, we went to Spain and I was determined to prove you wrong. Man.. I had to eat my words. Those pata negra were as delicious as you described them to be! The marbling, the flavour, the texture… I’m salivating just thinking about it now. Thanks!

  27. Sebastien Blondeau 4 May 2008

    If you like Iberico ham, you should go to Pata Negra House in Hong Kong. They specialise in Pata Negra and have a tasting bar at GREAT Foodhall, Pacific Place II. They also have outlets in Citysuper. http://www.patanegrahouse.com

  28. Adeline 6 July 2008

    i read recently on asiacuisine that AVA has finally approved jamon iberico?
    only question is…where on earth are they retailing it?? πŸ™‚

  29. Queseto 28 August 2008

    As Carmen, I’m also a Spaniard, and taken aback from the butter spread in your bread for the bocadillo de jamΓ³n de bellota… hmmm… either the tomato Carmen explains, or just plain extra-virgin drops of olive oil… πŸ˜‰

  30. S 3 September 2008

    We apologize for offending our Spanish friends πŸ™‚ The inclusion of butter was an attempt to recreate the lovely sandwiches we ate every morning at Bechu in Paris.

  31. Jonas 5 December 2014

    At home we love Bellota ham, it’s just delicious! We purchase it from http://www.jamonarium.com/en/ and they ship it to London in 3 days. I think the important issue for the Spanish ham is to trust your suplyer, the quality is really different depending where you eat it. I’ve been to Spain several times and my experience tell me that Joselitos and other are not better than “normal” quality brands.
    Thanks for the post!
    Jon

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

© 2016 Chubby Hubby