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All We Can Eat
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 10/11/2012

No one expects the Spanish (ham) inquisition!


A nutty finish: The pigs’ diet will be supplemented with Cape Cod acorns during the remaining weeks before slaughter. (Joseph Toscano)

Editor’s note: As part of her Pig to Table Project, Haspel will regularly update readers on her porcine charges’ progress. You can read her earlier posts in the links below.

Prepare for an international incident.

You know how fights are always breaking out because someone in California makes a crisp bubbly chardonnay and wants to call it Champagne or a sheep farmer in Vermont makes a beautiful stinky blue cheese and wants to call it Roquefort? They’re not allowed because the winemakers of the Champagne region in France protect their appellations’ grapes, critical to their wine, and the cheesemakers of the town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon protect their caves’ fungus, critical to their cheese.

Okay, I get that. Those grapes and that fungus are special. But acorns?

There’s a special kind of ham from southern Spain called jamon iberico de bellota. Those of you whose Spanish wasn’t picked up from the advertisements in New York City subways know that bellota means acorn. Although the breed of pig is specified for this particular kind of ham (it has to be a black Iberian), what really matters is its diet. Hence the name.

In order to be jamon iberico de bellota, ham has to come from a pig that spends the last weeks of its life eating almost exclusively acorns. It is the acorn that gives this ham its flavor, and its flavor is such that people pay vast sums of money for very small quantities. It goes for north of $150 a pound.

Just a couple weeks ago, friends of ours came back from Spain, jamon in hand. And I got to taste it. It is sweet and earthy, with just a hint of that barnyard flavor that tells you it used to be a pig. It has one of the densest, richest flavors I’ve ever tasted.

Hmm, delicious ham finished on acorns. Three pigs in my backyard, six weeks from slaughter. Oak trees all over Cape Cod.

Kevin and I launched Operation Acorn, in which we are attempting to convince friends to mobilize their underemployed, overcomputered children to go out into the fresh air to help gather enough acorns to keep three pigs fed for six weeks.

And you know what? It’s working. Friends are sending their kids out into the woods to collect nuts, for no reward other than to meet the pigs and get their pictures in the FOSTAD (Friends of Spot, Tiny and Doc) gallery. Even adults are participating. One reader from Ohio actually took the trouble to collect acorns and is mailing them in.

A good thing, too. A pig at this age eats about five or six pounds of feed a day. That’s a lot of acorns.

We won’t manage an all-acorn diet, but it looks like we’ll have enough for significant supplementation. Enough, we hope, to make a difference in our pigs’ flavor. Although our ham certainly won’t taste just like the jamon iberico de bellota (not only do we have the wrong kind of pig, we have no hope of duplicating the curing process), perhaps, in the dark, after a few drinks, we could pass off a few slices. . .

Do we have an extradition treaty with Spain?

Haspel is a freelance writer, now hunting, fishing and raising her own food in the wilds of Cape Cod. She writes about it at starvingofftheland.com, where she has a 24-hour Stycam focused on her three little pigs.

Further reading:

* The Pig to Table Project: Off to a happy start

* String theory: Taking the measure of a pig

* Deep in the bowels of pig farming

* The swine flue: Pig snouts inhale only the good stuff

* Pigs, on a see-food diet

* And this little piggy had no cross-species friends

* Call them Rumpelpigskin: They turn garbage to gold

* Carnivores should make friends with their food

By Tamar Haspel  |  07:00 AM ET, 10/11/2012

 
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