Almost everyone interested in food has been to some sort of wine tasting. Maybe it was in the wine section of a grocery store or at a friend's house, maybe it was led by someone who knew their stuff or someone who was faking their way through it, maybe it was fun or maybe it was didactic. But whatever the level, the aha moments in tastings are few and far between. I'm talking about when something switches a lightbulb in your head, when a new concept or taste is extremely clear and obvious and revelatory.
A couple weeks ago I attended the Glutton Club's cata of jerez y jamón (sherry from Barbadillo and cured Spanish ham from Sierra de Sevilla) in Ni Neu. It was led by the grande Pepe Ferrer, who is so passionate he can talk for hours about sherry. And there were not just one but several of these AHA moments.
There was a man hand-carving two legs of jamón ibérico, dried legs of the happiest pigs around. They spend their lives in a leafy paradise and you can tell they've lived well when you taste the meat. The aha moment here was the careful carving of the different sections of the leg. Typically, when you buy jamón in a market, you have no idea what part of the ham you're getting. What's more, they carve by machines and don't differentiate their cuts according to the part of the leg.
I found that my favorite part is the rounded bottom, opposite of the hoof. Another aha moment came when we tasted the ham cut in lardon-esque shapes, small blocks of meat and fat (see the first picture, above). Instead of dissolving in your mouth like the previous delicately thin strips, they had a sweet, fatty chew. Awesome.
The sherry was another aha moment, for several reasons. The difference between the manzanillas and the amontillados was astounding. The palo cortado was the favorite, with an easy drinkability and rich flavor. The manzanilla was compared to paint thinner...and indeed had a sort of chemical smell. Also astounding was the way the taste of the sherry changed the experience of eating ham.
A night of surprises. And general glutton-esque behavior.