Tasting Castilla y Leon Culinary Delights at Bar Pintxo

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Spanish Restaurant Los Angeles

Bar Pintxo celebrates Spanish cuisine daily, not just when special ham's in-house.

Writers and honored guests (including the Consul General of Spain) were invited to Bar Pintxo (Joe Miller’s tapas bar) to celebrate the cuisine and wines of Castilla y Leon, a region of Spain. Dona Juana from La Española Meats, the famed Harbor City importer of Spanish foodstuff, hosted the event, with son Alex serving as M.C. and daughter Bianca on hand to answer questions. Almost every bite I took was impressive, but this night will undoubtedly be remembered for my first taste of jamón iberico de bellota, the remarkable ham made from acorn-fed, black-hoofed hogs.

Spanish Food Los Angeles

Bar Pintxo filled high-top tables with chorizo Vela made with chunks of pork loin; chorizo Leon (top right), a drier sausage made with four kinds of paprika: sweet, hot, bittersweet and smoked; Nevat (top center), a silky Catalan goat cheese; Zamorano (bottom center), a Manchego-like sheep’s milk cheese; and Mahon (Menorcan cow’s milk cheese). There were also assorted olives, warm Marcona almonds bathed in olive oil, and fig “bread” studded with almonds. Not pictured: slabs of membrillo (sweet quince paste).

Spanish Ham Los Angeles

Nico Jimenez, five-time world champion ham carver and current holder of of the Cuchillo de Oro (golden knife) award, flew in from Extremadura. He’s also the world record holder for cutting the longest slice of ham, 19 meters, and Jimenez showed me a photo on his iPhone to prove it. Impressive. There are only 10 Maestro Cortadors in all of Spain.

On the bottom left, you can see Jimenez’s knives. He owns separate knives for removing pig skin, deboning the hipbone and slicing ham to serve.

Jimenez explained why jamón iberico de bellota is so special. He held up the leg to demonstrate, saying Iberico has a long leg and narrow ankle. Otherwise it’s not a pure Iberico. Hooves are rounded since they’re free range.

Jimenez locked the leg in a vice and shaved off the outer layer of fat. Hams hang for 24 months or more, so the outer layer becomes rancid. Take the fat off only for as much as you’ll use. Otherwise, the fat protects the meat. Don’t remove too much fat, or you’ll remove flavor. Slices should not be more than 4-6 centimeters in length. Otherwise, it’s too hard to chew.

Spanish Ham Los Angeles

Jimenez said master ham carvers must be neat, efficient, stylish and speedy.

Spanish Ham Los Angeles

I enjoyed about 20 slices of acorn-fed, black-hoofed hog meat. It was nutty, with melt-in-your-mouth ribbons of fat, chewy red musculature and crunchy white spots of caramelized amino acids. Apparently the meat contains nothing but “good cholesterol.” Considering the leg cost $1500, at about $90 per pound, that has to make jamón Iberico de bellota one of the most expensive health foods in the world.

Miller said that ever since jamón Iberico was allowed into the country six months ago, he’s sold two-ounce portions for $18. They sell one leg a week. To be an authentic tapas bar, he thinks it’s imperative to start serving jamón Iberico de bellota. He predicted two ounces will cost $25. It may seem like a lot of money, but given the remarkable nature of the ham, it’s well worth a try.

Spanish Food Los Angeles

As the evening progressed, Joe Miller and his staff produced more Castilian culinary treasures, including hearty lentils with crumbly sliced morcilla (blood sausage) and small Galician chorizos the size of baby carrots.

Spanish Cheese Los Angeles

Valdeon is a velvety Castilian blue cheese.

Antonio Martinez from Antalva Imports paired the food with some of his imported Spanish wines: a 2006 Tempranillo (Pago de los Capellanes Joven Roble) made by Paco Casas, an outstanding 2005 Bierzo (Pago de Valdoneje) made by Raul Perez using Mencía grapes, and a 2004 Rioja (Deobriga Seleccion Familiar) produced by Ramon de Ayala.

There was a fourth wine that I didn’t try, a 2005 Ribeira Sacra (Algueira), also produced by Raul Perez, not that we missed out on anything.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

when i looked at these pictures a wanted to throw up

musta been a sight to behold… La Espanola will always have a special place in my heart.

i envy you like none other.

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