You’re welcome to listen to the Cure while you read this post – I won’t stop ya and besides I love a good pun.
This past weekend my good friend Emily and I went to the rural town of Valdemanco, nestled in the Sierra Mountains outside of Madrid to learn the centuries old craft of meat curing. To say that I was excited would be an understatement – I’ve been on the waitlist for the course for over a year and at risk of sounding hip it’s true, I am a foodie! Chorizo, salchichón, morcilla, jamón, these are the meats that can turn a bad day in Spain right side up. I often find myself eating a little cured something with bread and wine for dinner. Food for me was one of the reasons I came to live here, and dammit I was not going to leave without learning how to cure a pata de jamón. So now I know, now I can leave (just kidding! Sorry Mom I love you).
Juan, our instructor/comedian led us through two days of dicing, slicing, mixing, salting, cleaning, stuffing, wrapping and hanging. We made the basics and then some, we learned how to commercialize our home operations and we learned how to take short cuts for faster home results. Cured meat, I came to find is a real waiting game and at its core is a way to preserve and feed through hard winters. It’s traditionally a woman’s craft, a knowledge base passed on from mother to daughter and characterized by the flavors and spices at hand.
Why November? Because it’s cold. Why paprika? Because they had it. Why cinnamon in salchichón? Because cinnamon hides bad flavors, it’s strong enough to mask whatever imperfections may arise during the cure. We learned Juan’s grandmother’s secrets and the recipes that have come to be the classics all around the country. In Asturias they put parsley in some of their sausages because it’s seasonal there…who knew?!
That evening Emily and I were pretty wiped out. We wandered back to the town where we were staying and posted up at an even smaller bar and had a glass of wine. Next thing we knew a guitar player showed up and what must have been every person that lives in Bustarviejo was at there to hear him. It was one of those moments for both of us, we said, that reminded us why we live here. The shared sense of history, the community and of course the culture. It’s something you can begin to miss in Madrid since it’s bigger and has so many expats. We had a glass of wine too many and yeah, we even danced – how could you not?!
At the end of two full days we tasted some of the most delicious charcuterie all together as a class. Venison chorizo, pumpkin morcilla, and of course jamón ibérico de bellota, Spain’s top tier hazelnut-fed Iberian ham. We exchanged numbers (I got some great restaurant contacts and ranchers/purveyors in my little black book now!) and headed home. The trip of a lifetime and I’m certainly out of my slump now. I’ve got a little morcilla hanging in my fridge doing it’s thing until January and when I slice it open I will absolutely share! For as many hard days as there are in Madrid looking for a job and getting with the hustle of the city there are absolutely times when I remember what a gem it is to be here. I learned a new thing. Spain is rad and this cooking adventure cured me, that’s a fact.