Sergio Gómez Gil recalls the time a journalist in Germany mentioned how curious it was to her that some Spanish people have a full leg of pork sitting in their houses, and how they think that’s the best thing ever. But if you know real jamón Ibérico, you’ll understand the proud display.
“The jamón de pata negra [black-legged ham] is without a doubt the most iconic product in Spain’s gastronomic tradition and it’s one of the things Spanish people miss the most when abroad,” he says, as we talk over coffee in a city centre café.
In a few hours, many of his nostalgic countrymen and women will gather to enjoy meaty slices of home, cut by his dexterous hands. Gómez Gil is a professional jamón cutter.
It’s a trade that transcends the art of skilful slicing and involves expertise and passion for one of Spain’s most famous food products. Something akin to a ham sommelier.
He is also the commercial director of a family-run company called Jamones Mallo, based in Extremadura in western Spain, but with a presence in several European countries. It produces a mouth-watering array of cured meat products: chorizos and morcillas – which is black pudding’s Spanish doppelgänger – but jamón is the star.
This ambassador of Spanish flavours is the host of the “Jamonada”, a meet-up where like-palated food lovers gather to celebrate authentic jamón Ibérico de pata negra.
The name might sound aristocratically long but this is ham royalty. As Gómez Gil says, “It comes from the black Iberian pig, a very special breed that is found only in a very specific area across the Iberian Peninsula. It is a one-of-a-kind animal, very dark coloured and its hoof tends to be black. Its meat gives a product of exquisite quality.”
The pig is smaller than other breeds, and distinctive veins of fat run through its muscles. The hams are cured for a length of time determined by the piece’s size and weight, but for authentic jamón Iberico, it’s a minimum of 24 months.
For very fine jamón de bellota – or acorn-fed pigs – it’s 36 months or even longer. Some of the finest pieces can be matured for as long as 48 months, says Gómez Gil.
Compared to other hams, the jamón Ibérico de pata negra is not cheap, he says. “In fact, it can be expensive. But it really is a superior product and something one-of-a-kind in the whole world. For me, it’s unrivalled.”
At the jamonadas, guests get to share this and other Spanish-cured meats, from chorizo Iberico de bellota to salchichón Iberico de bellota. They also get to sample Manchego, a firm and intense cheese.
Gómez Gil says that many who come to the meet-up are from the Spanish community in Dublin, or come along with Spanish friends or partners, but that anyone is welcome and free to get in touch by email which he picks up at [email protected] or join the meet-up group.
The dynamic of the jamonada is inspired in the tradition of Spanish “escote”, a term with roots in the Old Norse word “skot” – a sort of tax or tribute.
As Gómez Gil explains, it simply means to split a bill in equal parts among a group; in this case, it’s €29 per person, regardless of what or how much you’ve eaten. Basically, this translates to all-you-can-eat.
“People can have all the jamón they wish,” he says. “When they realise this they say: ‘Wow, this is a dream come true.'”
It’s been 10 years now since he hosted his first Dublin Jamonada. Many people still come back, he says with obvious delight.
“The best thing about them is the wonderful people you get to know. Even if I’m working, it is still a celebration,” he says. He has also been hired for private events, bringing his jamonada to weddings, Christmas parties and corporate events.
“Nowadays in the world, there are not many barriers or borders or distances,” he says, and so it’s easier than ever to discover new gastronomic traditions.