This is the best ham, a product of such high quality that only the best wine will match it to perfection. Fino with its reasonably low acidity and bitter edge from the flor works incredibly well as it balances the slight sweetness from the fat of the ham. Unfortunately the uninitiated remove the fat thinking it is full of cholesterol without realising that it is actually not only full of flavour but also full of monounsaturated fatty acids, the ones which are good for the heart. Jamón also contains proteins, minerals and antioxidants making it very healthy. Depending on its weight and quality it is cured for 18-36 months in airy bodegas after first being salted and cleaned.
Ibérico is a very special breed of pig with a grey-black colour and black hooves, and bellotas are acorns which the pigs eat over autumn and winter while they roam free getting plenty of exercise. The bellotas contain a lot of oleic acid meaning the meat will be much lower in cholesterol. In fact the pigs are referred to as “olives with legs.” Like Sherry, the best Jamón will have a Denominación de Origen covering quality and traceability. It should be noted that Jamón Serrano is neither Ibérico nor bellota as it is made from different pigs which do not eat acorns.
Cutting ham is a profession in itself with a national association and championship. So the ideal Sherry tasting would consist of a ham carver who would carve from the various parts of a ham each of which has different characteristics and match them with Sherry: the “maza” which has the most marbling and moisture is perfect with a good Fino; the “contramaza” and “babilla” are a little drier and leaner, ideal with a Fino-Amontillado; the “codillo” (or ”jarrete”) is sweeter more aromatic and the favourite cut of connoisseurs, perfect with a young Amontillado or Palo Cortado; and the “punta” is moister still than the maza and deserves a Manzanilla Pasada.
A popular saying goes:
Y dijo el jamón al vino: aquí me tienes, amigo. The ham said to the wine: here I am my friend, meaning the two are inseparable.
I have my own saying: “If there is no Jamón or Sherry in Heaven, I’m not going.