Anyone who has lived in Spain, or even just visited, will have heard the name of 'pata negra.' This is a popular and commonly-used term which isn't covered by any official restrictions, so anyone can use it. It's also ambiguous, and isn't the correct technical term for any specific type of ham. However, it means so much to ham lovers that they continue to use it amongst themselves.
Pata negra ham tasting has traveled far beyond the Iberian peninsula and has claimed its own special place in gastronomic celebrations around the world. Expert tasters gain cachet in the gourmet food scene, and the criteria for para negra ham tasting are well established. Therefore, we now have bases and steps that enable us to fully explore the organoleptic properties of para negra ham.
In the culmination of a living culinary tradition, every piece of para negra ham begins with the raising of pork and continues to the seasoning and curing of the meat. Tasting conducted by expert tasters decides the quality and gastronomic value of the resulting ham. This requires knowledge of the right steps to go through to properly explore the flavor and nuance of pata negra ham so that one can arrive at valid conclusions concerning its quality.
The first sense that comes into play when ham tasting is sight, not taste. Our first contact with the ham is via our eyes and the experienced ham taster can tell a lot about a ham simply by looking at it. If it is a quality piece of Iberico ham that has been well-pastured, we'd expect to see long, sharp hooves (a result of exercise and good nutrition), brown with black tones, and some mold in the hip area. This is an indication that almost always works perfectly when you're looking for a true para negra ham.
If you cut your own ham, or have the opportunity to watch a skilled craftsman do it, you can look to the color of the superficial fat. This is uncovered by simply peeling away the first layer of the outer surface of the ham. A yellowish color is a sign of a well-cured ham, so long as only the upper layer is yellowed. Under this we expect to find lean meat, usually a strong clean pink and marbled with specks of crystalized fat between the muscles. This fat makes a major contribution to the flavor of the ham, and only a traditional fattening regime, faithfully followed, produces it. The next step is the aroma. A good para negra ham should smell like one. This is one foolproof way to identify a ham that has been reared on acorns in open pastures, in a manner that patiently respects the time it takes to create truly great ham. Only this, combined with the traditional knowledge of curing and seasoning, can produce a true para negra ham, and we've said it before but we'll say it again: you can sniff one out!
After carefully looking it over and smelling it, it's time to enjoy a well-cu slice of para negra ham, the ultimate test of a ham's quality. To truly assess the quality of the ham, you must evaluate and measure several factors. First, you must test the texture of the slices, the level of juiciness: a good ham should be juicy,not dry in the mouth. This depends on drying time or maturation with a lower salt content than cheaper hams, as well as a high fat content. A para negra ham slice should unfold and fall apart gently in the mouth, with little chewing required.
But what about the subtle, nuanced flavor of para negra ham? First, we should mention the salty notes. These are due to salt added during the curing process, but they should complement the other tastes, not be overpowering. Then, you should notice a distinct flavor of acorns. This comes from the fresh acorns on which authentic Valdeorras ham was reared, and is a sign of great distinction that makes these hams stand out from those that do not come from acorn-fed pigs.
Despite the saltiness, you should expect a softly sweet taste from your pata negra ham, with spicy overtones, which gives its own account of a long period of maturation in a cellar. Although it's countrerintuitive, you'll often find that in the best para negra hams, both flavors are found wrapped in a slightly stale taste, which reinforces them and is considered a positive. This flavor is found only near the skin of the ham. But what about the subtle, nuanced flavor of para negra ham? First, we should mention the salty notes. These are due to salt added during the curing process, but they should complement the other tastes, not be overpowering. Then, you should notice a distinct flavor of acorns. This comes from the fresh acorns on which authentic Valdeorras ham was reared, and is a sign of great distinction that makes these hams stand out from those that do not come from acorn-fed pigs.