Remember what I was saying about the pricy Iberico de bellota ham? How “[e]very molecule of that meat has been infused with the forest in which that pig forages; the muscle and the fat almost melt on your tongue, leaving behind both a big buttery flavor and an ineffable sense of the Spanish countryside”?
Well, I may need to scratch that.
James McWilliams, over at the Atlantic Food Channel, has been sniffing out a rumor that the acorns that fatten up those prized pigs may not come from Spain, where “weevils, wasps, and moths can take an average 49 percent of a tree’s acorns before they fall.”
To answer my question, I called Heath Putnam, founder and owner of Wooly Pigs Farms, which produces niche European pork in Washington State. Putnam believes that at least some acorns consumed by Iberico pigs are imported to western Spain, most likely from Tunisia or Turkey. A Spanish newspaper report supports his claim. Futher backup comes from Viktor Nordstrom, a student of Iberico production, who has gone so far as to suggest that Spanish producers might soon be importing acorns from the United States.
Needless to say, the charge is huge, challenging nothing less than the core identity of Iberico de bellota. Indeed, the image of rampant Iberico pigs living in a state of nature is, well, rampant. Just as much as they value its taste, consumers value the image of Iberico pigs eating a diet provided entirely by nature under all-natural conditions. Google up “free range” and “Iberico” and you’ll get the point.
Iberico producers deny the charge. But you know that someone will ultimately learn the truth, one way or another.