Earlier this week while chatting with a friend, someone made mention of “Ham Fest” and I laughed out loud. Then I spent this past Saturday at said Ham Fest in a tiny pueblo in Huelva province and loved it.
In real life, the festival is officially referred to as: Feria de Jamón y del Cerdo Ibérico de Aracena. This sounds far more authentic and romantic than our bastardized translation of “Ham Fest”. The front page of the paper says “El jamón, rey de Aracena y de su Feria” – translation: Ham, the king of Aracena and its festival. Yes, the are serious about the pigs.
At 9 am we hop on the bus and roll out with a pack of giris (foreigners) to invade this small pueblo about an hour away. The bus drives through the gorgeous Andalucian countryside – mountains, olive groves, and the like. We pull up to a white washed town complete with castle, caffeinate and head for the ham.
A prominent fixture in Spanish kitchens / bars / restaurants is the ham leg.
It is seriously the haunch of the animal is came from, with hoof still attached. It hangs in windows, doors, kitchens or sit on the bar right next to you (we once saw a waiter give the leg an affectionate pat on the hoof). Let me just suggest that even if this freaks you out, you should get over it immediately because it is damn good ham. Two Ham Fest veterans take over our experience and we set ourselves up at some tables under the main tent. Shortly thereafter, a ham leg appears along with bread, cheese, chorizo and wine. Lots of wine. The ham leg has to go through this outrageous process of being set up in a rack (a jamonera) for prime cutting. There are screws involved.
Our attempt quickly becomes a spectacle for the Spaniards in attendance, and we are rescued by a fiesty señora in short order. Later when we were struggling to cut the ham in the proper way, we were rescued again – this time by the 2008 campeón cortador de jamón (of course). The absurdity continues into the afternoon and we cruise around the tents scoping out the other sites of the feria – including but not limited to the ham leg weathervane on top of the main building.
Can we file this one under “Only in Spain”? Think so.
More photos here: http://picasaweb.google.com/Kelly.M.Holland/LaFeriaDeJamon