You could also call these selected items nonpareils or classical
exemplars. Naturally some are rare if not priceless; but they range all
the way down to a few bucks so feel free to get out your wish list. Here
it’s more a combination of significance and romance than monetary
value. And unlike the Holy Grail[s] of song and fame their existence is,
or at the very least was, undisputed.
By single categories:
Flora & Fauna
Treasure & Splendor
Jamón ibérico de bellota
Might this be the ham that never saw a church potluck?
|May I help you?|
In the southern and southwestern parts of Spain you’ll find the
black Iberian pig or pata negra. It’s relatively small and
slow-maturing (for a pig, anyway), characterized by its ebony hooves and
an enviable talent for growing tasty ribbons of fat between its muscle
fibers. The breed goes back a thousand years and appears to have
descended from a hybridization between domestic pigs the Phoenicians
introduced during the Bronze Age and wild boars.
Anything sold as
must come from a free range
pig of at least 75% pata negra gene stock. Ideally these sweethearts are
raised on barley and maize for their first couple of months and
thereafter left to roam freely and forage for acorns. They can be
fattened later on with grain, but compromising their
montañera diet like that will dilute the unique flavor and
texture that the region’s acorns — holm, gall and cork oak,
mainly — impart to their meat.
They stack the hams under layers of salt for 14 days to dehydrate them
and then dry-cure them for 12 to 48 months in sheds high up in the
mountains. However sinful its flavor may be, the meat’s fat
portion is largely monounsaturated like olive oil. This means you can
enjoy it with a clear conscience, both in terms of being kind to your
arteries and of encouraging humane animal husbandry.
All that tranquil puttering about in oak groves and curing sheds
isn’t terribly cost-effective, of course, so the end product will
set you back. North Americans seeking USDA-approved jamón
ibérico from specialty food importers like
will need to fork over $90 or so per pound (typically $900 for a whole ham)
depending on the donor pig’s acorn history, though the 2009 Christmas
season left Spain with a rare glut of ibérico along with lesser
jamones that they were forced to unload at deep discounts and even in
some cases give out free as promotions.
Maize or corn as we know it doesn’t exist in the wild and never did. In fact,
if all the world’s corn farmers decided to desert their crops tomorrow and let
them fend for themselves, the species would eventually vanish because it can’t self-propagate.
|Teosinte (genus Zea)
|US Department of Agriculture
There are several wild grasses native to Mexico and Central America
collectively referred to as teosinte [tay-o-SEEN-tay]. Their finger-sized ears bear a
single row of tough-skinned kernels which you can either feed to livestock or
grind into flour. At a high enough temperature some will even pop
We’ve come to understand that sometime around 12,000 years ago the locals began to
cultivate teosinte and over several millennia of selective breeding developed hundreds
of varieties of maize — or what the first visiting Europeans called Indian corn to
distinguish it from the other cereal grains (“corn”) they were already
Teosinte is now rare and endangered. One species, Zea nicaraguensis,
exists confined to a single plot of around 6000 plants. The Mexican and
Nicaraguan governments keep all teosinte under protection, though it’s available
to qualified agronomists for analysis and experimentation.
Flora & Fauna
Treasure & Splendor