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Champagne & Bellota: a match made in heaven

Champagne & Bellota: a match made in heaven

Eric Boucher - 2011-05-09

José Gómez, the president of Joselito, has recently opened a restaurant dedicated to bellota ham and Champagne in partnership with Dom Pérignon. Ham & Champ is part of Sula, one of Madrid’s swankiest establishments.

Champagne and ham? At first glance, it seems a mismatched marriage. But of course this is not just any old ham; it is jamón ibérico de bellota  Joselito,  el mejor jamón del mundo (the best ham in the world) according to the finest chefs, who can’t seem to get enough of it. At Ferràn Adrià’s El Bulli for example, Joselito is always featured in several dishes on the menu. In short, this ibérico is in the same league as Dom Pérignon Champagne, and while there is surely a good measure of marketing behind the concept, objectively, it truly works, and the bellota-Champagne marriage has become as trendy in elite restaurants as at the most exclusive cocktail parties.
The matchmaker is José Gómez. One of Spain’s foremost Champagne connoisseurs, his fabulous wine cellar is crowded with Dom Pérignon, Selosse, Gosset and other eminent bubblies. The union with Dom Pérignon was sealed when cellar master Richard Geoffroy travelled to Spain where he too was completely captivated by the ham-Champagne alliance. Geoffroy tested all of the Dom Pérignon vintages from 1959 to 1992 to find the perfect mate for bellota – and decided that the match made in heaven required a Dom Pérignon 1986.
This discovery has caused something of a cultural revolution in Spain where as recently as ten or fifteen years ago bellota was still a relatively affordable rural delicacy. Until foreigners discovered and fell in love with it, that is - especially those from Britain, Italy, France and Japan. As the demand for exports increased, prices began to climb. Bellota has traditionally been enjoyed with red wine or with Manzanilla, a pale yellow ‘sous voile’ (’under the veil of flor’) wine. The latter’s low acidity and dryness make it a better choice than red, which tends to hamper and overpower the ham’s complex flavours.
But it is Champagne which best brings out bellota’s spirit and vitalizes all possible aromas, creating a complex alchemy thanks to the ham’s unique characteristics. The taste is unlike any other because of the Iberian pig’s diet of acorns (bellota); the acorn flavour is concentrated in the meat fat. Marbled with white, this is very fatty ham indeed - so fatty, in fact, that when at its best it sticks to the plate - even when turned upside down. And only Iberian pork has the ability to transform the fatty acids of the acorn into this very particular fat rich in oleic acid, like olive oil.
Ibérico ham is cut into thin slices with a sharp knife and eaten with the fingers: an integral part of the pleasurable bellota experience. The freshness and acidity present in a sip of Champagne can reveal all of the ham’s flavours and bring out the best in its lard. And it can be enjoyed without hesitation, because bellota’s unique fat actually reduces cholesterol.
Ham & Champ
Jorge Juan 33
28001 Madrid
Website (in Spanish): http://www.sula.es/web/home.php

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