As the mayor of the tiny Portuguese village told me in broken Spanish, (our only common language)-“If it doesn’t melt in your mouth, it’s not ham…”
PREACH, MAN. PREACH.
Those of you guys who know me by now, know I’m an absolute sucker for food. And locals. And local food. SO, when I found out about the ham festival that was going down in Barrancos, Portugal, “to go or not to go” was not the question. TO GO was the answer.
Barrancos is a teeeeeny tiny 2,000 person village in the South of Portugal, right next to the Spanish border. Thus, there’s a huge Spanish influence. In fact, I felt right at home; The charming little village reminded me a lot of my own little Fregenal de la Sierra…except everyone spoke Portuguese. Now, let’s relate the geography of this place to the reason why I ended up there…THE HAM. Iberian ham, (referred to as jamón Iberico in Spain, and porco Iberico in Portugual) is iconically a staple in Spanish cuisine. However, the Iberian peninsula does not discriminate….
Now, I’ve never been a big hamconnoisseur. That is, until I moved to my Spanish village. As I explained in 10 Things I’ve Learned About Life in a Spanish Village, ham is God. You like ham, or starve. So, now I really like ham. In fact, when I go back to NYC this Summer, I quite frankly have no idea what I’m going to do without jamón in my life. So, I’m eating as much as I possibly can in the next few weeks. Hence, my voyage to the Portugal ham festival.
And ham I ate.
Now what exactly is this mysterious ham, you might ask? Now, it’s not that boars head stuff you get from the local supermarket. This stuff is the real deal. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
I introduce you to my dear friend, the ham. We got really personal…Like, really personal.Now, behind every leg of ham, there is a man cutting it. And behind every man, there is a story. At the festival, I got into a very deep conversation about this man’s passion…His name is Alberto. And Alberto’s got a twist. His passion isn’t ham. His family’s passion is. Alberto made a joke to me, “I grew up with 100 brothers and sisters. My one brother, and my 99 pigs.” As a small child, he learned how to perform the “ham sacrificing” ceremony, how to cut the perfect slice of ham, you name it.
But his heart…
His heart was with the cheese. And this, my friends, is why Alberto and I hit it off. He broke off from his family’s ham business, and started teaching himself how to make the most perfect Portuguese and Spanish cheeses. From queso curado or cured cheese, to cheese aged longer than my lil’ lifetime. And Alberto nailed it. His cheeses were some of the most purely, cheeselicious cheeses I’ve tried, EVER…And that’s not all. Let’s not forget about ham’s best friend, the sausage. From chorizo to salpicão, the varieties of big, fat, homemade sausages were endless. Each sausage vendor was directly involved in the making of his or her own sausages. The awesome part about that? Not only can you taste the love put into each bite, but the look of satisfaction on their face when you ask for another…priceless.
After 2 hours of ham lovin’, sausage stuffin’, cheese munchin’ fun, came the dessert. Now, as much as the Portuguese love ham and all of it’s salty sidekicks, it’s the SWEETS that will forever go down as the Portuguese culinary claim to fame. And I see why. I stood at the counter for maybe 15 minutes staring at the desserts, overwhelmed by the idea that I had to pick ONE. So I didn’t. I had Matilda pick for me…three. Yes. That’s how it’s done. Here’s what Matilda, the village baker picked as her fatty faves…
And then came the wine. Like every good food blogger does, of course I had to sample each and every single one. Don’t worry Mom and Dad, it was just a sample. And a sample was all I needed…WOOO is Portuguese wine strong! And delicious. In case you come across Portuguese wine in your local wine supplier, BUY IT. Here’s a low down of each:
Starting on the left. The most famous of the Portuguese wines, Port Wine from Porto, Portugal (woah, that was a lot of “port” sounds at once…) Port Wine is generally a dessert wine, as it is a sweet deep red with layers of OOMPH (I know, my wine vocabulary is off the charts). If you’re into the white thang, it’s not as typical but you can also find dry white Port’s. Next towards the right, we’ve got Madeira wine, straight from the Madeira Islands of Portugal. Madeira can be sweet or dry, red or white. This one I tried was red, sweet, and STRONG. You know when you try something and your face goes into automatic cringe mode? Yea, that happened. Next, is Cachaça wine made from sugarcane juice. It hails from Brazil, but because the two countries are so intertwined, Portugal has adapted it as their own as well. And as you can imagine, it’s sweet. Finally, Melosa. It’s another sweet wine made from honey. They sure do love their sweets….
Port wine from Porto! Don’t you worry, I stacked up enough to hold me over until the next Portuguese ham festival 😉
Until then, I’ll be eating everything I possibly can out of this hand made Gazpacho bowl with my very own name on it…
If you have the opportunity to go to an off-the-eaten-path food festival, go go GO! Change your travel plans, and take whatever wild transportation you have to take to get to that little village. The smaller the town, the better. Why? It’s these guys that make their food with whole hearted love. As much as you love to eat it, they love to watch you eat it. Not to mention, the products are guaranteed fresh and local. Now that’s what I call “wandering like a nomad, eating like a local…”
Have you been to an off-the-eaten-path food festival before? What was it like? Haven’t been, but want to go? And the real question…have you tried ham Iberico before? Hungry minds want to know!