I’m not really a back-sliding vegetarian as I’ve never given up fish. In Spain, though, not eating meat is pretty close to being one; a vegetarian that is. What really marked me out as a ‘veggie’ over the years was my baffling refusal to eat Serrano ham – especially the premium quality stuff cured from contented acorn-eating pigs who’ve lived a life of frolic on the sierras and hillsides. The back sliding started a few years ago. At parties and weddings I’d sneak the tiniest of skinniest of slithers – just to make sure I didn’t really like the stuff. And then, after a while, just to make sure I did. I finally decided to ‘come out’ last Christmas at a four-day gathering of the García clan. There’s been no turning back (though only with jamón – I’m not the slightest bit interested in ‘proper’ meat) and now I’m as excited as the next Spaniard about the prospect this Christmas of pairing good red wine, ultra-cured Manchego AND the best jamón Serrano I can afford.
Savoured and raved about all year long, the hallowed ham really comes into its own at Christmas. One false turn in Carrefour and you end up trapped in a greasy sea of swinging forelegs and hind legs. Buy one, along with the special slender knife and the cutting stand that looks like an instrument of torture, and you are half-way to becoming Spanish. If you actually manage to mount the thing without losing a finger AND you master the fine art of sliver-slicing (thick chunks will NOT do), you can start applying for Spanish nationality.