I admit it, before I went to a Fermin dinner at chef José Andrés’s Jaleo Las Vegas I was a total hamateur. All I knew about ham was that I liked it.
Jaleo Las Vegas is a plush red space in Las Vegas’s Cosmopolitan Hotel, and we were seated at long banquet tables that looked prepared to support a feast. Fermin, one of the premiere importers of jamón and other Spanish pork products, and the main supplier to Jaleo, was hoping that this 11-course Fermin product dinner would serve as a fine hamducation for its guests. First fact learned—best to get basics out of the way—was that jamón is only the leg of the pig. Jamón was certainly on the menu, assured Jaleo Las Vegas head chef Luis Montesinos—who had put this dinner together with Andrés, Jaleo Culinary Director Ramón Martinez and the Jaleo staff—but Montesinos added that this dinner would be about showcasing every single part of the pig.
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"If you like beef tartar, the presa tartar is better, sweeter, creamier, like warm meat ice cream."
And what pigs these are. In the United States we eat almost exclusively white pig, but the finest pork comes from black pigs—also called Ibéricos or pata negra for their black feet. Ibéricos are then further classified: totally free-range, acorn-eating pigs are called Ibérico de bellota (bellota means acorn, and acorns are very fatty, producing flesh with unparalleled marbling) and grain and acorn eating pigs, are called, simply, Ibéricos. Our first course, a selection of cured meats, offered all three: the drier, leaner serrano was from Fermin’s white pigs, the richer jamón Ibérico, salchichon and chorizo came from the Ibérico pigs, and the lomo, with its super-nutty, earthy, melt-in-your mouth off-the chartsness was from Ibérico de bellota pigs. Luckily they were pouring a dry cava that was up to its fat-cutting task.