Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

FOOD SECTION: March 5, 2008 - Jamon and Tonic

This week's food section tackles some subjects that are near and dear to my heart - jamón ibérico, newly available in the US; Fever Tree mixers; and some restaurant news.


Jamón ibérico: The reason I could never be a vegetarian is all contained in this word: charcuterie. I could give up every other meat, but I could not pass by a plate of thinly sliced, salty and spicy cured meats. It just would never happen. Jamón ibérico is cured ham produced in Spain and is made from the cerdo negro (black pig), which subsists on acorns, grass and herbs, with their diet tending more and more towards acorns only as they reach their slaughter date.

The very best jamón ibérico is called jamón ibérico de bellota and must be made from free roaming forest pigs that eat only acorns during the last stage of their life. The meat is cured for 36 months.

Until 2005, there were, alas no producers of this wondrous ham that were approved by the USDA, so the ham could not make its way here. But in 2005, Embutidos y Jamones Fermin got the seal of approval and as of December, the first hams were made available. The first bellota hams will be available in July (right around my birthday - just throwing that out there).

These are, I must warn you, the priciest hams in the world. The online supplier, Tienda.com, will ship ham to you in amounts that range from $34.95 for a small amount of hand-sliced bellota to $1400 for a whole bellota ham (approx. - at a cost of $199/pound). Add on a ham-holder and carving knife and suddenly it is cheaper to just go to Spain and eat it.

You can also get the jamon locally at the following:

West L.A: Bar Pintxo (310) 458-2012, Wally's Wine and Spirits

Culver City: Cafe Surfas

Beverly Hills: Cheese Store of Beverly Hills

Fairfax: Froma on Melrose

Silverlake: Say Cheese (323) 665-0545

South Bay: La Espanola Meats

OC: Sapphire Laguna Pantry

Fever Tree Mixers: If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that I drink like I'm living in a black and white film. I drink early and often, but only in an incredibly classy way. One of the keys to drinking classy is to make sure you are using classy ingredients. I'm sure that Schweppes is nice, but wouldn't you feel much sassier pouring elegantly out of these slender little bottles?

Just check out the ingredient list. They are made with all-natural ingredients, including spring water, cane sugar, and the actual components of the flavor, rather than a chemical approximation. Ginger ale with real ginger? Lemon drinks with real lemon? Unheard of. These are so good, that the last pack of soda waters I bought, I drank about half of them on their own and didn't even bother to put them in a drink. Now THAT is a good soda.

You can get Fever Tree mixers from BevMo or Whole Foods. They've got them in the bar at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

New Restaurants: Finally, a couple of new restaurant notes if you are looking for something to try:

  • Goat, by Steven Arroyo (of Cobras and Matadors and 750 mL) gave up on his old Asian concept resto in the Rita Flora space and has transformed it into a place called Goat. The menu is more modern American, although goat does appear, mostly in goat cheese form, throughout the menu. Intriguingly the house special is called "GOAT CONFIT." I am not sure what's up with the caps and quotes or even what a goat confit would be like, if indeed that's truly what it is and not some mockup. As far as I know, goats are not known for their succulence. However a quick search shows me that it is indeed actual goat confit. Hmm.
  • Two places to go for long tubes of meat: Brats Bros. Gourmet Grill serves fancy sausages in the Valley, and The Stand is serving up hot dogs in Westwood.
  • Finally, in the MacArthur Park area, La Fonda Mexican Restaurant re-opens and carries on its tradition of live mariachi with your enchiladas.

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