Spanish Gourmet Iberian Ham Make Way to US Menus

by VR Sreeraman on Nov 16 2007 7:28 PM

Iberian ham, a staple of Spanish menus and Christmas feasts, is about to go on sale in the United States for the first time, at least for those who can afford it.

A spokesman for Spanish producer Embutidos Fermin, Manuel Andres Tejedor, said the company is the first in Spain to export the deep-red flavourful meat to the United States, after 10 years of lobbying.

US authorities have thus far cited health reasons to block imports. But Embutidos Fermin makes the export product in a slaughterhouse approved by the US Department of Agriculture.

The first 30 hams arrived Wednesday at John F. Kennedy airport in New York, Tejedor said.

The meat comes from pigs fattened up on a diet of acorns. The hams are dried for two years, before being ceremonially cut into thin slices. The meat melts in the mouth giving off a rich nutty flavour.

A renowned Spanish chef in Washington DC, Jose Andres, is to be among those given the honour of slicing the hams, Tejedor said.

"It's for a major market, as the Americans -- those who visit Spain -- know Iberian ham very well," he said, while conceding that the high price of the product means it is aimed at a select few.

In Spain, one kilogramme (2.2 pounds) of the sliced Iberian ham costs 200 euros (292 dollars), while in Japan it goes for 400 euros.

Iberian ham was regarded as a basic staple in Spain in the 1960s and 1970s, but demand for it has soared over the past 10 years, bringing back to the fore its dietetic properties -- the fat is rich in oleic acid -- first mentioned back in the 10th century.