Food & drink

A ham marriage

Trying to harmonise wine with food is not an exact science, and many thousands of words have been written that support this view. Maridaje, as such a pairing is referred to in Spanish, involves serving a wine with an accompanying dish to achieve the perfect gastronomic balance. However some foods are acknowledged to have no suitable partner.

Asparagus is one, since, like artichokes, a substance known as cynarin blocks any sense of sweetness. Another is smoked anchovies, the overpowering flavour of which makes any drink, except vodka, unpleasant. Caviar is a tricky one too, although vodka, again, and cava or champagne are the primary options. Curry-lovers mostly reject any alcoholic drink except beer, but I find an old manzanilla to be perfect, even an oloroso.

Admittedly some maridajes are acceptable. A recent example was a tasting in which the protagonist was acorn-fed ham (jamón de bellota). This was from Castro y González, whose production area spreads from south of Salamanca to the northern part of Huelva province.

I have consumed lorry loads of ham, but to be honest was never quite sure which part of the leg it was carved from. Each has a different taste and consistency, influenced by the length of time the ham has been hung; the tasty fat obeys the force of gravity and concentrates in the lower regions. The accompanying tasting wines were primarily from the Chivite Perelada stable, and included the notable Gran Claustro Cuvée cava and Chivite's now well-known Las Fincas rosado.

Quite correctly, and adequately placed in the order of things, the tail-end Charlie was Tio Pepe fino sherry.

So if you think tasting food and wine together is a great way to pass a few hours, be aware that eight wines were tasted with four different cuts of jam. A total of 32 variations on what was really an outstanding sensory experience, and I wish everyone could have the same opportunity. Having said that, almost any quality jamón de bellota is delicious, and the number of occasions you can enjoy it will depend on your bank balance - or whether you have generous friends with good taste.