Back to school: Andrew visits Brindisa for a lesson in Spanish ham

As a ham lover, I was delighted to receive a whole leg of Spanish Serrano Monroyo Ham for my birthday back in November. The ham was supplied by Spanish food retailer Brindisa and came in a huge box together with a wooden cradle to hold it steady whilst being carved. Most importantly it came with a fantastic knife, which of course put my selection of knives to shame!

Having never had anything quite like it before, I set everything up unsure of which way up to mount the ham, let alone where to start carving it. To cut a long story short, my son and I have pretty much carved (AKA hacked!) our way through 75% of it now. The ham is totally delicious and is the talking point with any visitors; it’s amazing how many cannot resist carving a little piece for themselves.

As if that wasn’t enough, the second part of the present was a voucher for a Spanish ham course at Brindisa’s shop in Borough Market. On possibly the coldest night of the year, I spent a fascinating couple of hours in the care of Mario Hiraldo, Brindisa’s Master Carver and Ham Controller. Mario navigated us seamlessly through the background to Spanish Ham, the difference between Serrano and Iberico, the misuse of the term Pata Negra, the difference between the same type of hams but from different regions, the importance of the acorn, the strict control and certification process (right down to having an official poo inspectors who spot checks the pigs diet!) plus a whole host of other facts and figures.

A tasting of the different hams was followed by a great ham and wine pairing session with Greg Lawniczak. The wines must have been good because the temperature was sub-zero by this stage and the reds still tasted fab! Finally, Mario felt able to let us loose on his hams and a quick lesson was followed by us trying to emulate the Master and carve ourselves a pack to take home. This was achieved with varying degrees of success. Having been shown the proper way, I would be embarrassed if Mario ever saw my previous efforts at home; the poor leg is beyond repair.

All in all a brilliant night out; thoroughly recommended. It was also a great reminder of how independent traders can and should be thinking outside the box, offering services and experiences that set them apart, while ensuring punters like me return for more.

My favourite ham was Iberico Brindisa Bellota produced by Guijuelo, in Salamanca. Price £375 and can purchased online here A typical ham night with Brindisa at the beautiful Borough market costs £75 and here’s a sample of what you can expect

7pm-8.00pm: Introduction to Spanish hams

  • Learn about what makes a truly great Spanish ham
  • Taste Serrano and Ibérico hams from different regions with different production methods
  • Tastings include premium ham, Señorío Ibérico Bellota, Brindisa Ibérico Bellota and Jabugo Ibérico as well as a serrano ham from the curing regions of Teruel or Trevélez.

8.00pm-8.30pm: A carving workshop with a team of master carvers

  • See how to open a ham and how to look after it when you have finished carving
  • Learn how to achieve a good slice and get the most from the ham.
  • Carve your own slices under an expert eye.
  • Keep the slices you carve to eat at home later.

8.30pm-9.00pm: Wine tasting

  • Taste a handful of Spanish wines selected from the wine list in Brindisa’s restaurants.
  • These wines are carefully matched with the Ibérico andSerrano hams
  • Each ham school will feature a variety of different Spanish wines, from regions as diverse as Catalunya, Rioja, La Mancha and Extremadura.

If you’d like to try your hand with ham, visit the ham school at Brindisa or contact them on 020 8772 1600


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