PRINCELY PORK

Iberico ham brings a luxe touch to food im­ports of Spain, Liu Zhi­hua re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - Con­tact the writer at li­uzhi­hua@chi­nadaily.com.cn

In 1879, Span­ish en­trepreneur Rafael Sanchez Romero founded 5J Cinco Jo­tas to of­fer meats from 100-per­cent Ibe­rian black pigs, an an­i­mal species de­scended di­rectly from the pre­his­toricMediter­ranean boar.

More than 130 years later, the com­pany’s pre­mium ham is cap­tur­ing the hearts of Chi­nese food­ies, while it has be­come a na­tional trea­sure of Spain.

“Iberico pigs are called ‘run­ning olive oil with four legs’,” says Beli Simeon, the com­pany’s master ham carver, at a re­cent tast­ing event in Bei­jing.

“The purer the breed is, the bet­ter the Iberico ham will be.”

Simeon joined the­com­pa­ny­when she was 24; she had de­vel­oped a strong in­ter­est since the age of 16, when she be­gan slic­ing ham while work­ing for her fam­ily store.

“China has be­come the largest mar­ket for the com­pany out­side Spain,” says the com­pany’s China rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Emily Li, at a re­cent tast­ing event in Bei­jing.

“Chi­nese peo­ple are get­ting rich, and are will­ing to spend money on the ex­pen­sive hams that we call ‘af­ford­able lux­ury’.”

The price of 80 grams of the com­pany’s ham in a su­per­mar­ket is 300 yuan ($45) to 400 yuan, mak­ing 5J among the most ex­pen­sive Iberico hams, she adds.

Col­lec­tively, Chi­nese im­ports from Spain rose 35 per­cent last year, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports in De­cem­ber, mak­ing it the sec­ond­biggest im­porter af­ter France. A sin­gle 18-pound leg from one of Spain’s fa­mous acorn- and oliveeat­ing pigs can cost up to $670 in Spain, and dou­ble that in Amer­ica,

com­mer­cial di­rec­tor in China of 5J Cinco Jo­tas

ac­cord­ing to The New York Times, and Chi­nese con­sumers pay even more for Iberico ham than Amer­i­cans.

The Span­ish del­i­cacy has a dis­tinc­tive taste, aroma and tex­ture. It also pro­vides health ben­e­fits due to its high con­tent of essen­tial el­e­ments and healthy fats.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion an­nounced last year that eat­ing pro­cessed meats could in­crease the risk of col­orec­tal can­cer, but Chi­nese con­sumers see hams pro­duced trace in Spain as a safe choice.

“Span­ish ham is a very unique prod­uct, but it’s also seen as healthy, which is a real as­set when you’re sell­ing to the Chi­nese,” Oliver Win, a Hong Kong fine-foods dis­trib­u­tor, told the Times.

Span­ish author­i­ties have cat­e­go­rized Iberico hams into four classes based on the pu­rity of the pig breed, whether or not they are raised freerange, and whether they are acorn­fed or fod­der-fed. Since 2014, the per­cent­age of Ibe­rian an­ces­try in the pig must be spec­i­fied on the la­bels.

The finest Iberico ham is from pigs raised on the Ibe­rian penin­sula: They roam free-range in oak forests and are fed on acorns in the weeks be­fore slaugh­ter to in­crease the healthy un­sat­u­rated fatty acid con­tent in the meat. The most ex­pen­sive Iberico ham is cured for 36 weeks.

While most ja­mon pro­duc­ers use cross­bred pigs, 5J is among the few brands that use 100-per­cent Iberico pigs, ac­cord­ing to Simeon.

The com­pany raises its own pure­bred pigs with strict qual­ity con­trol, and has masters at each step of the ham-mak­ing process, she says.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Beli Simeon, a se­nior ham carver, demon­strates proper slic­ing at a re­cent tast­ing event or­ga­nized by a pro­ducer of Span­ish ham, 5J Cinco Jo­tas. Emily Li,

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