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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

PORK PROJECT: Attention, vacationers to Spain: There is no longer a need to hide a leg of celebrated Ibérico ham in your suitcase on the trip home.

In a ceremony Thursday at Jaléo restaurant downtown, chef and co-owner José Andrés and importer Santiago Martin of Fermin USA were joined by Spain's ambassador to the United States, Carlos Westendorp, for the slicing of the first jamon Ibérico -- dry-cured ham made from Spain's black-footed pigs -- to legally enter the United States. Fermin USA won importation approval after a 10-year effort. "Every cuisine has its hero," Andrés said. "In Spanish cuisine, it's the Ibérico ham, the best ambassador a country can have."

From pigs raised in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, Ibérico's mahogany-colored meat is highly marbled, sweet and nutty. But the legs are not the highest-grade Ibérico de bellota hams, from pigs that gorge on acorns in the four months before slaughter, but rather the Ibérico de recebo hams, which may have some acorns mixed into their feed. The suggested retail price for the boneless recebo is $86 per pound. The bellota hams will be imported in late July and will sell for about $160 per pound.

In addition to Jaléo and Taberna del Alabardero restaurants downtown, Ibérico ham will be available as early as this weekend at Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown and Cowgirl Creamery in Penn Quarter and by mail from http://www.tienda.com.

-- Walter Nicholls

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