Eager to learn all about the Iberian Pig, I picked up our guests Gina and Steve, on Monday morning in Aracena. We start our Iberian Ham School with a visit to the Museum of the Jamón in the centre of Aracena where I give a guided tour of the museum; excellent students, they paid full attention as I explained about the way man and nature have evolved together to create a unique model of sustainable farming to provide the Iberian Pig’s favourite food – the acorn, using the 4 varieties of oaks that we find in the dehesa, the beautiful farmed woodland of this area. We then continued to discover the different species of the small black animal native to the Iberian peninsula which thrives here, how they are fed, reared and the importance this industry has for the area. A documentry in English is also available for visitors to watch.
Lunch followed – I took them tapas crawling to a few bars around Aracena before driving back to Alájar and their home for the next 3 nights Posada San Marcos
After a break, (they denied sleeping a siesta!) we all got together for the Jamón carving demo accompanied by sherry tasting and of course carving and tasting the Jamón themselves. This evening we had our Iberian Ham School Students, June and Arunas and another couple that were staying with us on the treasures of Aracena Holiday offered by Inn Travel, myself, Lucy and Sofía who really enjoys serving the olives and the Jamón to our guests. Tasting the difference between sherry (fino from Jerez) and Manzanilla (from Sanlúcar - it is different) and then my own Manzanilla which I mature in a barrel on the honesty bar and always seems to be everyone’s favourite!
After attempts at carving and Jamón tasting, Lucy served a delicious 3 course meal – Beetroot Gazpacho, Iberian pork tenderlion with walnut and brandy sauce, chocolate mousse – highly complimented by all!
Day 2 of our Iberian Ham School starts with our visit to Finca Montefrío where Gina, Steve, June and Arunas thoroughly enjoyed Lola and Armando’s hospitality. If you want to see in situ how pigs are born, brought up, reared, fed and live for two years on a completely organic farm, this is the place. They learnt how to call the pigs to them, the differences between a holm oak, a cork oak and the acorns they produce, why the pigs need to have a swim, or why their meat actually reduces (yes reduces!) your levels of cholesterol. One of the highlights of the visit on the farm is to enter the “cathedral” of Montefrio: the bodega where all the jamones (back legs) and paletillas (front legs) are hanging, curing, aging to reach the perfect moment for their consumption. Armando explained how meticulous the process and system of labelling is and how absolutely everything must be controlled to achieve the status they have: their pigs are 100% Pure Iberian Pigs, Organic, Acorn fed… hence the amount of labels they carry with all registers having to coincide.
Last night’s introduction to carving certainly didn’t put me to shame as both Armando and Lola were quite impressed with all four guests’ carving skills and we then sat down in their lovely dining area to enjoy a stunning lunch based on Organic Iberian Pork from Finca Montefrío: Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, Loin Sausage, Chorizo, Salchichón (salami type), their own paté (based on a recipe Lucy passed on to them from my mother!), their own freshly made goats cheese, vegetable soup, Iberian Pork tenderloin, fresh tomato and a delicious local pudding.
Back at San Marcos Gina and Steve really did need a siesta after such a large lunch washed down with organic wine while June and Aruñas caught up with their emails/ wrote a post for their blog and also had a sneaky 40 winks before saying goodbye to continue on their travels to Sevilla and beyond. We will be keeping up with their travels
Day 3 is isn’t quite as pretty but just as interesting! Lucy drove Gina and Steve to Aracena where we have organised a visit to one of the largest butcher’s in the area. Here we went behind the scenes to see the chorizo making process, the drying process of the various sausages and jamones together with the fresh cuts of the Iberian Pork. Ana, our guide, explained that the family business was started by her grandfather who sacrificed animals on a Sunday to ensure that there was fresh produce available on a Monday, making deliveries around the Sierra with his faithful donkey. The business has expanded with Pepe, Ana’s father, and her older brother at the helm, diversifying to keep their heads above water in these dificult times. We bought a couple of kilos of fresh pork cheeks for the cookery class in the afternoon along with another delicacy of the area plain salted crisps fried in olive oil - the (2nd) perfect partner to a chilled glass of sherry on the terrace in the afternoon while waiting for the casserole to cook!
It was perfect day for walking and Steve and Gina decided to do just that and walk back from Aracena to Alájar along the trails using our walking notes.
Lucy arranged to meet them both in the kitchen at San Marcos later on in the afternoon to start the cooking demonstration with the fresh Iberian Pork that Lucy had bought that morning. Although pork cheek is becoming more available in UK it still isn’t widely available. Lucy explained how to prepare the cut removing the unwanted bits, Sofia peeled the carrots, an onion was roughly chopped and all was thrown into the casserole dish with olive oil, fresh rosemary from the garden, black pepper corns and a generous slosh of organic red wine. Left to cook slowly on the hob, Gina and Steve hit the barrel and crisps while Lucy prepared the dessert. They got together again to prepare the garlic and rosemary infused rice to accompany the pork casserole and the starter of grilled goats cheese and tomato slice – fresh grated tomato, oregano and local goats cheese grilled until melted is a simple and effective starter. The finishing touch was to make the chocolate and black pepper sauce – delicious!
Sad to see Gina and Steve leave early the next morning Lucy ran them to Aracena bus station for the 8am bus with a couple of Jamón rolls to help them on their way!