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Claude Monet, "Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe avec Gustave Courbet" (1863)
IN THIS ISSUE
The Master Ham Carvers of Spain Part One
By Gerry Dawes
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
CHAMPAGNE GOES GREEN
By John Mariani
On this week's episode of my WVOX Radio Show "Almost Golden," on Wed. April 21 at 11AM EST, I will be interviewing Blake Bailey, author of the new biography of author Philip Roth. Go to: WVOX.com. The episode will also be archived at: almostgolden.
The Master Ham Carvers of Spain
Ibérico Knife Artists
and Photos By Gerry Dawes
Maestros Cortadores de Jamón
are men (and a few women cortadoras)
who actually specialize in carving Spanish jamón Ibérico
de bellota hams—costing $600 to $800
apiece—into paper-thin slices that literally melt
in your mouth.
they so expertly carve come from free-range pata negra (black
pigs that fatten themselves on acorns in the vast
oak tree-endowed dehesas
in southwestern Spain. These
hams are Spain’s gastronomic equivalent of the
best foie-gras from France and caviar from the
Caspian Sea. At special events, food fairs,
private parties and even weddings, Spain’s cortadores de
jamón, literally ham cutters, or ham carvers
as I prefer to call them, may earn from $250 to
$4,000 for slowly slicing a ham by hand over a
couple of hours into thin, sometimes almost
translucent serving pieces, one exquisite slice at
The cortadores are professionals employed by the producers of the high-ticket Ibérico hams and many work for the same producer until they retire. The pigs’ acorn diet marbles the hams with a luxurious kind of ivory fat that tastes of nuttiness from the acorns and consists of mono-unsaturated oleic acid, which actually lowers evil LDL cholesterol and boosts the levels of the more benign HDL cholesterol. In fact, the promoters of jamón Ibérico de bellota are so enthusiastic about the healthful qualities of the oleic fatty acids that they sometimes refer to the Ibérico pigs as “olive trees on the hoof.”
Sometimes, if there is a bumper crop of acorns, the pigs can engorge themselves to the point that this vegetable-like oil actually pools between layers of their muscles and can cause problems for the pigs. One day a few years ago during a lull when he was cutting jamones at the Pedroches stand at Barcelona’s sprawling biennial Alimentaria food fair, Pedroches Maestro Cortador Clemente Gómez pointed out a pool of oil seeping out from the muscles of a ham he was cutting and told me: “If these pigs eat too many acorns during la montanera, the two to three months they are allowed to roam free-range in the hills of Extremadura and northern Andalucía, foraging on grass, plants, herbs and a slew of acorns—the oleic acid they produce from the nuts can seep out from their muscles and make it painful for them to walk.”
I longed for a spoon and a small container to take away some of the oil from the ham Gómez was cutting (right). At Madrid Fusión 2018, one of the world’s top gastronomic conferences, I saw that someone had finally packaged this oil for use in kitchens, but the aceite de jamón Ibérico they were offering was actually ham fat melted in olive and/or sunflower oil and was not the real pure essence that Gómez showed me.
A fenómeno who stands apart from other ham carvers is Florencio “Flores” Sanchidrián, a 59-year old force-of-nature from the historic provincial capital of Ávila (Sanchidrián is a village north of Ávila) in the mountains northwest of Madrid. Sanchidrián is Spain’s—and the world’s—consummate Maestro Cortador. Upon watching his unique ham-cutting flourishes, one senses that within Flores Sanchidrián there is the soul of a bullfighter and/or flamenco dancer. When he lines up to slice a ham, Sanchidrián torques his body like a flamenco dancer and at times profiles like a matador getting in position for the kill. Usually he also dons garb complete with a headband that brings to mind a samurai maestro.
In addition to his unique distinctive style, Sanchidrián (left) is a born storyteller who entertains as he slices, talking about what makes each particular ham special. He claims that to perfect his craft he locked himself in a convent with his knives and five hams and water.
“Iberian ham speaks of the countryside, pasture, nature and freedom,” Sanchidrián in his poetic mode says. “Acorn-fed Ibérico ham is nourished by the four elemental forces of life—earth, water, fire and wind. The earth nourishes the animal’s life, water feeds its soul, fire gives the heat for the secador (drying) process and the air (curing) exempts it from sin! Acorn-fed Ibérico hams are like wines; depending upon the year, good years come like wine vintages and, like wines, gran reserva hams are made.”
Wielding in each hand two long thin flexible slicing blades with pointed tips, Sanchidrián somehow manages to carve paper-thin slivers of ham and cajole them into a line of curls along the blade he is not using for cutting. With a deft flick of his wrist, he spins each slice around the blade, and then nudges them into the line along the other blade holding half a dozen other freshly sliced “without sin” pieces of jamón Ibérico. With the sharp pointed tip of one of the long knives, he skewers any recalcitrant, presumably sinful slices, flips them into curls and adds them to the row on the other blade. Sanchidrián does the same with the second blade until both knives have a row of curled jamón slices, artistically arranged in a single layering. In his native Ávila, at the Restaurante Rincón de Jabugo, which he owns with working partner Benjamín Rodríguez, he demonstrated this for me, letting me sample some of the slices. (He is also a partner at Restaurante El Matadero, across from Madrid’s former matadero (slaughterhouse) in the Arganzuela barrio of Madrid.)
“The first hams that come out each year have the taste of green almonds. The same ham three months later now tastes like ripe almonds,” Sanchidrián told me. “In a good year, the pig has eaten acorns and had a good diet, so the hams taste of hazelnut and wild herbs; gran reserva hams have the taste of walnuts and wild mountain herbs.”
Sanchidrián has his detractors, some of whom consider him as the cortador de jamón equivalent of Manuel Benitez “El Cordobés,” the famous tremendista, multi-millionaire “Beatle bullfighter” of the 1960s and 1970s. Jesús González (right), the Dehesa de Extremadura Cortador, mentioned no names, but says he does not like what he calls los malabaristas del jamón (ham jugglers) and said that “the star should be the ham and not the carver.” Echoing González, Joselito’s Maestro Cortador Ernesto Soriano told me, “I am a professional who thinks that a carver cannot be above the ham, which unfortunately today happens a lot, and that cannot be.” (Of course, both González and Soriano are ham carver employees of major ham producers; Sanchidrián is not.)
Carrasco Ibéricos’ official cortador, Pedro Seco, has been cutting ham for 37 years, professionally for more than 25 years, beginning “in a high-end restaurant in Madrid, where I was working as a waiter. Between periods of waiting on customers, I began cutting the hams to serve my colleagues and they told me that I did a great job of carving the ham for them, so it evolved into a profession and I was chosen to be the cortador for Carrasco Ibéricos.”
All of the Maestros Cortadores de Jamón may take several hours to whittle down a ham one slice at a time. Seco guesses he has cut 37,000 hams in his career.
Jesús González León carves hams for the D. O. P. Dehesa de Extremadura at shows and official functions. González cuts quite a figure himself in his custom-made cortador’s tunic and his sleek shaved bald dome and gray-streaked fine-line Imperial goatee. He also has a consulting business that deals in all aspects of ham procurement and ham carving. In 2018, at the Madrid Fusión gastronomic summit, he told me he is self-taught and began carving hams at Restaurante el Clavo in the out-back Extremaduran town of Valencia de Alcántara in 1988. When González began carving hams, the profession of cortador de jamones was scarcely a knife-gleam in the eyes of fledgling ham carvers. The designation cortador de jamones did not exist, let alone the lofty title of Maestro Cortador. As ham carving came to be more appreciated it became an event at trade shows like the Salón de Gourmets in Madrid. In 1998, Jesús González began entering ham cutting contests and won five of them. (The first jamón Ibérico Denominación de Origen Protegida, Guijuelo, was not recognized until 1986 and la Dehesa de Extremadura, which is in González’s home region, did not attain D. O. P. status until 1990.)
For the Dehesa de Extremadura D. O. P., González estimates he carves 500 to 600 hams per year. When asked whether he ever got codo de tenista, (tennis elbow) from cutting hams, he said, “No, ham carvers get tendonitis of the shoulder, not the elbow.”
► This article is excerpted from Gerry Dawes’s upcoming book, Sunset in a Glass: Adventures of a Food and Wine Road Warrior in Spain.
NEW YORK CORNER
2 Harrison Street (at Franklin Street)
By John Mariani
Photos by Dan Ahn
Somehow I missed eating at Jung Sik when it opened in 2012 without much fanfare, and then, as time went on, I never got around to it, despite its receiving two Michelin stars. Now that I have, I could kick myself for not getting to Jung Sik sooner, because the cuisine of owner Jung Sik Yim, whose first restaurant, Jung Sik Dang, debuted in Seoul in 2009, is among the most refined and sensibly creative in New York right now. Not for him are modernist fantasies or molecular lab experiments. His food is beautifully crafted but, overall, possesses flavor combinations that one has never thought of, much less thought would work. And they really do.
Yim’s opening in Seoul was, from all reports, a shot across the bow, bringing an entirely new style of cooking to South Korea, though it would be difficult to puzzle out what makes much of it Korean. His sensibilities are not like the overelaborated razzle-dazzle intentions of David Chang. Yim is more interested in a minimalism that is actually complex, whereby to look at his dishes is not to know how much thought went into them. Sometimes all that work still comes out as a rather bland reality, but in most the results can be wondrous.
The TriBeCa premises used to be the warm-hearted Chanterelle festooned with sprays of flowers. Now, Jung Sik is basically one long room with a picture window, a slatted polished wood wall, and exceptionally comfortable cream-colored banquettes and booths set with double tablecloths and first-rate stemware for each kind of wine. Lighting is amiable and allows you to see the beauty on the plates; the eclectic mix of music is played nice and low. When we dined there, when New York restaurants were allowed 50% capacity, only four tables were taken (along with a few claustrophobic-looking huts outside), so the noise level was very pleasant, but even with more tables, I can’t imagine it really being much louder.
There are two menus offered at Jung Sik. The five-course menu is $165, with an optional wine pairing for $110, and the seven-course menu is $200, with an optional wine pairing for $140, making this one of the most expensive restaurants in the city. And be aware that, if you are a table of two or four, everyone must take one or the other option, meaning you can’t order seven courses and your friend five, because it would “interrupt the flow.”
Yim apparently is biding his time back in Seoul, and the night I visited the executive chef was off and the sous-chef who cooked that night “left early.” The heralded pastry chef left the restaurant three weeks earlier. This was all a bit off-putting, but nevertheless the kitchen staff (all women) seems well trained to deliver exquisite cuisine, as is the wait staff, whose every member knows every detail about every dish.
Apparently they once served bread at Jung Sik but no longer, so you will be ravenous by the time the lovely little charabanc (amuses) arrive, set on individual ceramic stools, including a paper crisp tuile of tuna loin with cucumber, chive and sesame aïoli; a steamed egg finished with a gamte (seaweed) and shellfish foam; wagyu beef tartare seasoned with truffle cream, served on toasted brioche, with Parmesan and black pepper; velvety foie gras mousse in a Berber brik tartlet, with apple jam garnished with toasted shaved hazelnut; and “compressed” Chilean peach topped with lime zest, sour cream, bacon chip and candied pecans that would have been better as a dessert.
Then came the various savory and sweet courses, beginning with luscious bluefin tuna belly layered with slow-cooked egg yolk and insipid Bulgarian sturgeon roe, which had a nice textural contrast of crispy quinoa. Next up was a lightly grilled langoustine served with smoky sabayon and hyssop oil, making for delectably complementary flavors. One of the signature dishes for good reason at Jung Sik is the octopus braised for an hour in dashima kelp broth, then fast-seared till crisp, served over gochujang (chili paste) aïoli and finished with fine herbs.
Mandoo are Korean dumplings, here stuffed with foie gras and kimchi, topped with a sheer sheet of wagyu and swimming in a beef broth (left) known as gom-tang—a good dish, but the broth, by any name, was dreary, despite its three-day preparation time. An elaborate dish that paid off was myeong ran (cod roe) atop seaweed rice and pearl barley, finished with more seaweed, slow-cooked egg yolk and crispy quinoa, delicious if a bit too similar to the tuna tuile.
Alaskan black cod is a marvelous fish, often cloyed with sweet sauces, but here its essential flavor is unmasked, served in a delicate clam stock foam. Branzino is first steamed, then charcoal-grilled and served over a bed of white kimchi, with a vial of sesame oil. (These tiny vials are a leitmotif at Jung Sik.) Kimbap sushi is stuffed with woodsy truffled rice, bluefin tuna belly, and kimchi, finished with a tangy mustard sauce (right).
Next come the meat dishes. You won’t find a cook-it-yourself brazier at Jung Sik, and the traditional galbi marinated shortribs of beef are wagyu here, lightly grilled and served over a bed of seasoned mushroom rice with kakdugi radish kimchi and sesame leaf. Superb Iberico Pluma de Bellota pork came with white asparagus—too early in the season to be very sweet—a sunchoke puree, micro mizuna and mustard salad with calamansi vinaigrette, crosne, and kalchi (beltfish) jus.
This was a lot of courses, but my wife and I were still ready for some delicate desserts. “NY Seoul” was choux pastry filled with brown rice cream and pecan praline, caramel, corn dough and vanilla ice cream. A signature “trick of the eye” dessert was a very soft, almost pudding-like baby banana, with a cannoli made from a white chocolate shell filled with dulcey cream, banana cremeux. A Bailey’s banana cake was accompanied by coffee ice cream and chocolate hazelnut crumble. Strawberries, both cultivated and wild, are topped with an aloe sorbet served on a corn sable cookie and finished with black pepper and strawberry juice. Of course, there are delightful petit-fours and rich buttery chocolates. It‘s a tour de force at the end of such a splendid meal.
Jung Sik’s has a trophy wine list that may well be of interest to Korean billionaires who think nothing of dropping $14,000 for a Romanée-Conti, but for the rest of us there is precious little under $150 that is appealing, which may be why the other tables that night seemed to be nursing a wine by the glass or none at all. The cheapest wine by the glass is a dessert wine for $24, the most expensive, an Opus One 2016, is $90. Curiously enough, the best buys on the list are the magnums, like Bois de Boursan “Tradition” for $200.
The prices at Jung Sik are arguably justified by the superior cuisine, though some of the ingredients from such far-flung sources, like wagyu, might not be all that necessary when used only in such minuscule amounts. You will have a serene evening at Jung Sik, and as long as you know what you’re paying for it, it will be uniquely wonderful.
By John Mariani
Cavuto and David Greco agreed to
start work immediately on the Capone
project, so she booked a room at a
local motel and was at his door the
next morning by nine, to find him
yet again out in the yard killing
Katie seated herself across from
David and started unpacking her bag: one
legal pad, two reporter’s notebooks, a
thick manila folder, two biographies of
Al Capone and a copy of Jay Robert
Nash’s 1973 book, Bloodletters
and Badmen: A Narrative Encyclopedia
of American Criminals from the
Pilgrims to the Present.
© John Mariani, 2015
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
CHAMPAGNE GOES GREEN
By John Mariani
Photos courtesy of Comité Champagne.
seems probable that the wine industry, more than any
other agricultural industry, is going green in
environmental terms. Growing grapes in
historically prestigious vineyards and the need to
preserve the integrity of the soil has become in
particular a mission for the producers in France’s
Champagne region of 16,100 winegrowers, 360 houses
and 140 cooperatives. Their goal is to eliminate all
herbicides by 2025.
Champagne is also working to invent new grape varieties by breeding hybrids, thereby creating varieties with effective and sustainable resistance, improving the vines’ growing capability and the quality of the wine produced in the face of a changing climate. To find out the details I interviewed Arnaud Descotes (below), director of the viticulture and environment department at the Comité Champagne.
How has local warming
already affected Champagne region?
No, at this stage we have
not noticed any changes.
Champagne was the first wine-growing region in the world to equip itself with an ambitious plan to cut carbon emissions. Reducing bottle weight, recycling waste products, and converting biomass are among the most significant initiatives. The region is also focusing on supplies and is seeking to replace fossil fuel-based supplies with bio-sourced supplies from agricultural resources produced in the region. From 2003-2020, the region successfully decreased the carbon footprint of every bottle by 20 percent, cut its use of herbicides in half, treated and recycled 100 percent of its wine effluents and 90 percent of its industrial waste. The goal is to achieve a 75 percent decrease by 2050.
Mating disruption of insects
reduces the need for insecticides.
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NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,
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