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 of France protect their appellations’ grapes, critical to their wine, and the cheesemakers of the town of Roquefort-sur-Souzon protect their caves’ fungus, critical to their cheese.
OK, I get that. Those grapes and that fungus are special. But acorns?
There’s a special kind of ham from southern Spain called jamón ibérico de bellota. Those of you whose Spanish wasn’t picked up from the advertisements in New York City subways (El Pico! Es más café.) know that bellota means acorn. Although the breed of the pig is specified in 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 jamón ibérico 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 to buy very small quantities. It goes for north of $150. a pound.
Just a couple weeks ago, friends of ours came back from Spain, jamón 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.
Hmmm. 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 in the fresh air and sunshine 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 pig food, for no reward other than meeting the pigs and getting their picture 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.
And 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 be much like the jamón ibérico 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?