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Friday Food Blogging May 29, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Food and Drink.
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Via the Atlantic Food Channel blog:

Jamon Iberico de bellota is a Spanish delicacy routinely touted as one of the world’s finest cuts of meat. The influential critic Ed Levine urges anyone who can afford the $96 a pound delicacy to indulge, calling it “ham as God would make it.” The celebrated secret to Iberico de bellota’s succulence is pigs that roam oak forests to fatten themselves on a steady diet of sweet acorns.

But it turns out that Spain probably can’t produce enough acorns to feed their pigs, and a rumor has leaked that they are importing acorns from Tunisia, Turkey, and even the United States, although the charge is denied by Spain’s pig producers.

Needless to say, the charge is huge, challenging nothing less than the core identity of Iberico de bellota. Indeed, the image of rampant Iberico pigs living in a state of nature is, well, rampant. Just as much as they value its taste, consumers value the image of Iberico pigs eating a diet provided entirely by nature under all-natural conditions. Google up “free range” and “Iberico” and you’ll get the point.

I enjoy Spanish Jamon, but I don’t recall sampling Jambon Iberico de bellota. (I would remember paying $96 per pound). And sometimes the geographical details regarding soil composition, climate, and variety matter. (I have never tasted mozzarella cheese that rivals the buffala mozzarella produced near Naples for instance).

But suppose the imported acorns provide precisely the right flavor profile. Does it then matter that they are imported?

The same debate occurs in the wine industry regarding the concept of terroir (the soil and climate conditions in which the grapes are grown). The French, especially, believe a wine should reflect the unique characteristics of the growing region, and wines should not be processed in a way that masks the terroir. Thus, they have very strict laws regulating the production and labeling of wine to preserve that connection. (In the U.S. some wine makers emphasize this; others do not. And it is very loosely regulated.)

Is a good wine, a good wine regardless of its regional connection? Similarly for a good ham?

Discuss.

 

 

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Comments»

1. Ian Duckles - May 30, 2009

I agree with much of this post, but I think you somewhat neglect the real issue that is stake in these debates and that concerns the connection of food to national identity. As I noted in some of my posts about the slow food movement, the movement started in Italy in response to a perceived threat to the national food identity of Italy in the form of a McDonald’s. Thus, notions of ‘good’ can’t and perhaps shouldn’t be reduced to merely taste, but also incorporate other values tied into national identity and regional pride.


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