The Mystery of the Iberico de Bellota Solved! Apologies Due to Canales Deli.
This is sort of, kind of why I hate the blogging world: You post items even when you can't get the answers immediately. Like yesterday, when both Canales Deli in the Eastern Market and Cheesetique in Del Ray, were closed, I went ahead and bitched about the huge difference in price I paid for iberico de bellota at each place.
This morning, still stewing over the $51 price differential, I did a little more research on iberico de bellota. It turns out that the bellota stamp — given to those pigs that gain at least a third of their weight from consuming acorns and grasses in the south and southwestern areas of Spain — can be applied to two different cuts of meat: the back leg (jamon) and the shoulder (paleta).
Slices from both cuts look pretty much the same on the plate — thin, bruised-red ribbons of cured meat, streaked with generous amounts of cream-colored fat. But they don't cost the same. For example, the online retailer La Tienda sells jamon for $49.50 per four ounces, which translates to $198 a pound. It sells paleta for $34.50 per four ounces, or $138 per pound.
Why such a difference? Because, as La Tienda points out, jamon is the "most prized because it is cured twice as long and has a more complex, intense flavor."
So I called Cheesetique and confirmed with manager Sarah Mason that its iberico de bellota is indeed from the shoulder cut. Canales Deli owner Juan Jose Canales also told Y&H this afternoon that he's selling the jamon, not the paleta.
After I apologized to Canales for yesterday's premature tirade, I began to ponder the differences in flavor. As I noted in Monday's post, the paleta meat was saltier, but it still had a similar depth of flavor to the jamon. Now I really want to try the cuts side by side to see if they really do taste (relatively) the same, or if my experience with the shoulder cut was colored by my earlier epiphany with the jamon.
I have a feeling I was suckered less by Canales, than by my own memory — and by that oh-so-human desire to recreate an experience.
By the way, Canales said he's now selling the jamon for $140 a pound, or $58 cheaper than La Tienda. It's beginning to sound like a deal to me.