by Kerry Acker | www.epicurious.com | February, 2014
Not all pork products are created equal. Just imagine for a moment that money was no object, that no supernal slice of lavishly marbled ham or haute hunk of succulent pork was too high-end or high-falutin’ for your budget. Here, our mini guide to some of the finest, most exclusive, pork, ham, and bacon in the world.
Jamon Iberico de Bellota
Celebrated El Bulli chef Ferran Adria once said of this traditionally cured Spanish ham, “Iberian pork meat is extraordinary. There’s nothing like it elsewhere in the world. There’s a great difference between a superior ham and all the rest.”
Raised along the Spain/Portugal border, the pata negra (black-hooved) pig roams free-range through old-growth oak forests, dining on herbs, grass, and, most significantly, acorns (bellota means “acorn”), resulting in an intensely flavored, distinctly nutty, and richly marbled meat unparalleled in the ham universe.
Get It: A 14.5-pound bone-in whole Jamon Iberico de Bellota ham from elite Spanish brand Cinco Jotas retails for $1,290 at La Tienda. But, wait, you’ll need to properly slice it, too, so consider investing in the Cinco Jotas Cortador kit–including a 13-pound bone-in Bellota ham, a black ham holder, two carving knives, serving pincers, and a protective chain-mail glove–which will set you back $2,450.
Culatello di Zibello
Among the rarest, most highly esteemed charcuterie in Italy, culatello is a boneless ham with a velvety texture and a robust, slightly sweet flavor. Produced in the foggy Po Valley, outside of Parma, culatello (“little backside”) is made from the muscle in the rear leg of the pig, and is related to prosciutto, but pig purists consider the version labeled with the D.O.P. “Culatello di Zibello” superior to its cousin. Because it takes a whole ham to make the culatello, and producers must adhere to strict D.O.P. regulations–including using only pigs born and raised in Lombardia or Emilia-Romagna, and a slow aging (without refrigeration) of 12 to 20 months–Culatello di Zibello is pretty hard to find. (Approximately 20,000 pieces of culatello are produced annually.)
Get It: Head to Italy’s lovely Antica Corte Pallavicina, a hotel/restaurant situated in Polesine Parmense and run by Chef Massimo Spigaroli, chairman of the Consortium of the Culatello di Zibello since its inception and widely considered one of the best producers of the exclusive ham. You can visit the on-site cellars, where the ham is aged to meltingly tender perfection, then sample it afterward at the Michelin-starred restaurant.
A Mangalitsa pig
Mangalitsa Pork, Bacon, and Lard
This rare breed of pig, the result of a 19th-century Austro-Hungarian experiment cross-breeding a wild boar with a pig raised for lard, is pretty darn funny-looking: Its distinct “fleece” coat gives it the look of a sheep-pig–which is why the Mangalitsa is also known as a “woolly pig”–and the pigs can weigh over 300 pounds. The animal was near extinction until the 1990s, when a Hungarian breeder revived it, and in recent years a handful of American farmers have started raising Mangalitsas. Though the woolly pigs are more expensive to produce than other heritage breeds, the buttery meat has been enjoying considerable popularity among chefs: Mangalitsa pork has been served on menus at the likes of the French Laundry, Le Cirque, and Blue Hill Stone Barns, and it’s also increasingly available as cured ham, bacon, and other products.
Get It: D’Artagnan sells a bone-in 12- to 16-pound Mangalitsa ham–dry-cured in Spain–for $400, Murray’s offers bacon ($17/12 oz.) from New Jersey-raised Mangalitsa pigs, and Florida-based Pasture Prime sells ground Mangalitsa pork, lard, and custom pork.
Edwards’ Surryano Ham
When it comes to dry-cured American ham, Surry, Virginia’s Edwards’ Surryano is a fabulous bet. Produced from Berkshire hogs and other heritage breeds–who dine on peanuts, grass, corn, and soy, according to Food Republic’s interview with Sam Edwards–the meat is dry-cured, smoked over hickory wood for seven days, then aged for 400 days. The ham that results is rich, smoky, and silky, and beloved by such chefs as David Chang, who serves it at Momofuku Ssam Bar.
Get It: A 15- to 17-pound bone-in Surryano will set you back $215, while $39 will get you 3.4 ounces of sliced Surryano heaven.
North Madisonville, Tennessee’s Benton’s Country Hams, famous for its world-class traditional dry-cured ham and (also dry-cured) bacon, is another American company that just makes us proud. New York Times writer John T. Edge said it best: “Allen Benton is the rock star of American bacon. There’s just something very primal about his bacon. It’s like barbecue and is so distinctive.” Chef devotees of Benton’s intensely, beautifully smoky bacon are many, and include David Chang, Sean Brock, and Hugh Acheson, to name just a few.
Get It: Four 1-pound packs of Benton’s famous hickory-smoked bacon cost just $26 via Benton’s website, but bear in mind that there may be a 5-week delay in delivery–which you will totally understand once you taste this extraordinary bacon, which would satisfy even the pickiest one-percenter.
Originally posted: 2/18/2014 : http://www.epicurious.com