10 December 2007
MADRID - Iberian ham, one of Spanish cuisine's most prized delicacies, has finally made it into the United States - legally, that is. On Thursday, a Spanish restaurant in Washington DC hosted the official presentation of amón ibérico, which can now be imported after years of being smuggled into the country under the noses of customs officials.
The way for this change was cleared in June 2005 when, after years of lobbying, US health authorities gave Iberian pork products the green light, paving the way for Spanish companies to begin the paperwork necessary for their export.
The official presentation of the famous Iberian staple took place at Jaleo, a Spanish restaurant run by the chef José Andrés, who is a familiar face to Spaniards thanks to his television cooking program. Andrés himself was present at the event, as was the ambassador to the United States, Carlos Westendorp, to give the diplomatic seal of approval. A handful of guests, mostly Spanish, eagerly awaited the end of the official speeches in order to sample several trays of jamón.
"Iberian ham raises the level of Spanish cooking because it is one of our best products. To attempt to prepare Spanish dishes without using Iberian pork is nearly impossible, so I am delighted about this," said Andrés, who described this type of ham as "the Rolls Royce" of Spanish cuisine. Products from Iberian pigs range in quality depending on how long the animals lived out in the open and whether they were fed acorns, which gives the meat a better flavour. De bellota is considered the finest of Iberian hams.
For now, only one Spanish company has obtained the license needed to sell its pork products in the US. "It is a great satisfaction to be here today, after several years of hard work and the difficulties we faced. This is a historic moment within the Iberian ham sector," said Santiago Martín, head of Fermín USA, the US subsidiary of Fermín, a company based in the small Salamanca town of La Alberca. The firm will distribute hams in 30 establishments throughout the country, as well as selling online.
The ambassador raised an issue that is now on the minds of many Spaniards.
"Many people ask me, 'Why export this precious good if it may cause prices to go up in Spain?' Well, because we have to share our good things with our American friends," said Westendorp.
For now, though, the best ham of all, the one from pigs fed entirely on acorns, will not reach American shores until July 2008. According to Andrés, "there is still a lot of Spain left to discover."
[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ SUSANA URRA 2007]
Subject: Spanish news
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