Welcome home — so sorry about the ham

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Ques­tion: We just came back from a va­ca­tion in Spain, where we were as­sured by all our friends (and by peo­ple who sold ham) that it is now le­gal to bring some ham for per­sonal use into the U.S. So we bought about a pound of jamón ibérico in four vac­uum-sealed pouches from the ham store. We de­clared the ham on our U.S. Cus­toms form and were di­rected to the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture line for re­view. There, the agent told us that it is illegal to bring pork prod­ucts into the U.S. from any coun­try. The Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion web­site ( www.lat.ms/1LgDVWe) says, “Pork should be com­mer­cially canned and la­beled in un­opened con­tain­ers. Pork and pork prod­ucts are not ad­mis­si­ble from Mexico, ex­cept for cooked pork in small amounts for a meal.” I wish I’d had this in­for­ma­tion at the time. Our $100 worth of jamón went into the Cus­toms trash at LAX. Elena Camp­bell-Martínez

High­land Park

An­swer: So much trou­ble over a lit­tle piece of ham? Yes.

Here’s why that ham is so prized: Amy Scat­ter­good, now Los An­ge­les Times food editor, de­scribed the hams this way in a 2008 ar­ti­cle: “Jamón ibérico and jamón ibérico de bel­lota are made from the same black-footed breed of pig, and both are cured by the same meth­ods, us­ing time, salt and some ni­trates. But the bel­lota pigs, fin­ished on acorns, pro­duce hams that are more mar­bleized. This al­lows the hams to age longer, yield­ing a rich, in­tense, com­plex fla­vor.”

That rich, in­tense, com­plex fla­vor was long barred from im­port to the U.S., but fi­nally over­came reg­u­la­tory im­port hur­dles about seven years ago.

But that was a tri­umph for ex­porters and im­porters, not, as Camp­bell-Martínez learned, for in­di­vid­u­als.

The U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion web­site quote above might make you be­lieve your ham will be al­lowed in, but don’t be­lieve ev­ery­thing you read (or don’t read) be­tween the lines.

In an email, Jen­nifer Evan­it­sky from Cus­toms’ Of­fice of Public Af­fairs said: “The state­ment on the www.cbp .gov web­site … ref­er­enced [above] was ac­tu­ally pre­ceded by the fol­low­ing di­rec­tion re­gard­ing the im­por­ta­tion of an­i­mal prod­ucts and an­i­mal by-prod­ucts: ‘ Meat, milk, egg, poul­try, and their prod­ucts, in­clud­ing prod­ucts made with these ma­te­ri­als, such as dried soup mix or bouil­lon, are ei­ther pro­hib­ited or re­stricted from en­ter- ing the United States, depend­ing on the types of an­i­mal dis­eases which oc­cur in the coun­try of ori­gin.

“‘Fresh (chilled or frozen), dried, cured, and fully cooked meat is gen­er­ally pro­hib­ited from most coun­tries.’ This di­rec­tion on dried and cured meat is ap­pli­ca­ble to the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of the Ibe­rian ham.”

This gem from Page 370 of the 726-page An­i­mal Prod­ucts Man­ual by the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture ( www.lat.ms/1RqBgsw) gives more de­fin­i­tive in­for­ma­tion: Ta­ble 3-19-24 (search for “Spain” and you’ll find an “If A, then B” chart about “Cured and Dried Pork Prod­ucts From Spain”) goes this way: “If the pork is of Span­ish ori­gin and cured and dried in Spain and lacks cer­ti­fi­ca­tion: REFUSE EN­TRY.” Not look­ing good for ham. If you dig deeper in the Cus­toms web­site — go the main site ( www.lat.ms/1Lg DVWe) and put “Span­ish ham” into the search en­gine — you’ll find this: “Parma, Ibe­rian or Ser­rano hams — Call (301) 851-3300 or toll-free at (877) 770-5990. Only cer­tain plants are cer­ti­fied ex­porters, and the hams must be ac­com­pa­nied by cer­tifi­cates and seals.”

The (301) num­ber is the Na­tional Im­port Ex­port Ser­vices in Riverdale, Md. Its phones are staffed 5 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Pa­cific time.

I called at 6:04 a.m. on a Tues­day and was on hold for the next 1 hour 9 min­utes. When I got a hu­man, she con­firmed that the ham is a non­starter. “We ad­vise peo­ple not to bring in ham from Spain,” she said. It re­quires “a health cer­tifi­cate from the Span­ish gov­ern­ment, and they will not is­sue it to a per­son.”

Just to be sure, I called a sec­ond time (noon on Mon­day, got right through af­ter press­ing 1) and got the same info.Camp­bell-Martínez said she didn’t re­call hav­ing a cer­tifi­cate.

Don’t try to bring the ham in with­out declar­ing it — you could face fines up to $10,000. Your best bet, ab­sent crys­tal­clear and easy-to-find di­rec­tions from Cus­toms, is to leave the ham be­hind and buy it here at home. Much more ex­pen­sive, but it won’t be 10 grand a pound.

The Bazaar by José An­drés

JAMÓN IBÉRICO is de­li­cious, no ques­tion. As for bring­ing Span­ish ham to the U.S. — that’s a prob­lem.

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