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Iberico delights

By Chris Betros

Probably the most revered cured ham in the world comes from Iberico pigs. Their genetics, enormous size (160-180 kg), and their long, relatively free life make it a unique animal in the world only bred in Spain. The pigs have developed a genetic ability to store large fatty deposits that became part of the muscle mass and created the characteristic white streaks that give the ham its incomparable marbleized texture and aroma

One of the leading producers of Iberico ham is Sanchez Romero Carvajal-5J, which belongs to the Grupo Osborne, one of the oldest companies in the world, having been founded in 1772. The company’s Cinco Jotas (5 Js) brand of jamon (ham) is sought after worldwide. Just recently, it was awarded 3 stars by the International Taste & Quality Institute.

Asia is a popular market for Cinco Jotas, 5J, says Asia area manager Jaime Pastor, who is based in Beijing. A regular visitor to Tokyo, Pastor also looks after China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Australia. Born in Madrid, he has worked for a bank, as a business consultant for a consulting firm, and then as a freelance consultant both in Spain and China, before joining Sanchez Romero Carvajal a year ago.

Japan Today editor Chris Betros catches up with pastor during a recent visit to Tokyo.

What is the structure of the company?

Sanchez Romero Carvajal, which was founded in 1879, the oldest 100% Iberico Ham producer in Spain, has belonged to the Osborne Group since 1983. The Osborne Group, which was founded in 1772, has five business lines. We produce wine and sherry, distribute spirits, we have our own brand of mineral water and fruits juices, as well as 100% Iberico ham products. Then we have 15 restaurants. Recently, we opened a tapas bar in Harrod’s in London.

Where are Cinco Jotas products mainly sold?

Our company has a limited output because our pigs are 100% Iberico and there is a limited number. In Spain, there are about 350,000 Iberico pigs. Each year, we kill around 110,000. Overall, our international business is less than 8% of the total output, the rest being in Spain. Our goal is to be in the best places all around the world.

How do you sell in Japan?

Before, there wasn’t anyone here taking care of the market. Now we have a distributor and I am supporting him and helping him contact clients and organize events. We sell the leg and shoulder to high-end supermarkets in vacuum packs and high-end restaurants such as Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse.

How do you market your product?

When I am in Japan, I introduce myself to chefs and attend hotel events and food exhibits. Earlier this year, the Four Seasons Hotel hosted the Art of the New Spanish Cuisine where 8-10 Spanish cooks came to Tokyo. Jamon was an important product, so we participated. Everything is about networking.

What makes Iberico ham the best?

First of all, the breed is a black pig unique to the Iberian peninsula. It has a genetic defect that makes the fat go into the muscle, giving it a marbled look. The pigs are only fed bellota (acorns). All of the ham is hand-sliced. We don’t use machines because machines would burn the fat. We have eight people in a special room, dressed as if they were aliens, cutting jamon the whole day. If you don’t cut it properly, it won’t taste the same. It has to be a thin, translucent slice.

It is also a healthy food because it produces good cholesterol. The pigs are often called olive trees with legs, with a lot of oleic acid in them.

What is the best way to eat Iberico ham?

The best way to eat Iberico ham is with some bread, maybe toasted, with some tomato and olive oil. The perfect drink match is sherry or wine.

How knowledgeable are Asian consumers about Iberico ham?

In Asia, we have to work a lot in educating consumers. They don’t know much about the name Iberico. There are two categories of Iberico: 100% Iberico or puro Iberico, where the mother and the father are pure Iberico pigs and then the simply called Iberico where the mother is not usually pure Iberico (she has been mixed with white pigs, Duroc breed) and where the father is usually white pig (Duroc). Sanchez Romero Carvajal - 5J is really concerned about the purity of their pigs and all the mothers are listed in a genealogic book of pure Iberico pigs.

Amid all the news about swine flu, how safe are your products?

Perfectly safe. It takes 36 months average for the jamon to be cured, so there are no worries.

How did you learn about the business after joining the company?

I studied a lot and I went to the factory in Jabugo, Spain for a week to see the process and take carving lessons.

As a regular visitor to Tokyo, can you tell us some of your favorite Spanish restaurants?

Some good ones are Sant Pau (in Coredo), Ogasawara, El Castellano and La Taperia.

© Japan Today

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Spanish Iberico ham is sooo delicious. I'm addicted!!

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Id give my left nut for a piece of any ham right now, or even some side pork or bacon.

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Que viva Espana, y Espana es la mejor! I would love to live in Spain. If not, portugal, Italy, or Greece. Do not know about France, but maybe, in the mediterranean cost. Old familiy ties from my father date back from the 1800s, or who knows, and come from Galicia. That is why they called my uncle was El Gallego.

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The pigs have developed a genetic ability to store large fatty deposits

If you can't find the ham, then buy a packet of lard, and you're half way there.

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Delicious. And I would also like to live in Spain or Portugal.

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The best way to "cure" a vegetarian . slip them a rasher of that pig

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incomparable marbleized texture and aroma

MARBLED, not "marbleized" or "marbulated" or "marboiled" or any other such nonsense.

What does one of these babies go for, wholesale? Anyone know? The only time I get larcenous thoughts is when I see one of these in a restaurant and they're charging 2500 yen for three paper-thin slices.

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