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Old world pork now available, thanks to Nicky

by: SUBMITTED GRAPHIC Iberico de Bellota pork from Spain is a specialty meat product now available in our area, thanks to Nicky USA. Fed on acorns and wild herbs, the pork is butchered into cuts that are slightly different from American meat cuts.

If you follow the popular TV show, 'The Simpsons,' you might know that Homer considers pigs to be 'wonderful, magical animals,' and enjoys eating pork in all forms. The cartoon character is often drawn salivating heavily over bacon, chops and ham.

Well, dear friends, you just might share his obsession for pork - complete with glazed eyes and drool - after you've tasted Fermin's line of Iberico de Bellota pork. We will owe our thanks to the folks at Nicky USA here in Portland.

Nicky USA, whom we have counted on since 1990 as purveyors of the widest variety of sustainable, free-range game birds and meat, will now be supplying the Pacific Northwest with uncured Fermin brand Iberico pork from Spain.

Commonly known as Pata Negra or Black Hoof, Iberico pigs are descendants of wild boars that once inhabited the Mediterranean forests. Today, it is the last free ranging and grazing pig in Europe and an integral piece of an ecosystem that exists solely in the dehesa, the government-protected holm oak and cork forests of western Spain.

During the fattening season, the pigs feast almost exclusively on fallen acorns, known as bellota, and wild herbs. This diet and the unique ability of the Iberico to store fat impart an incomparable tenderness, taste and texture that make Iberico de Bellota the best in its class.

Founder and owner of Nicky Farms and Nicky USA, Geoff Latham, and his staff recently hosted a luncheon to introduce Portland foodies to Iberico de Bellota products. We were invited to come to LePigeon, where Chef Gabe Rucker and Chef Hank Costello of Andina prepared dishes that would have put Homer in hog heaven - they certainly had that effect on me.

The menu included:

* Pork tartare - yes, you read that correctly. Since every pig is tested for trichinosis before it is slaughtered, Fermin butchers can assure you it is safe to eat raw. It was delicious served with larded brioche, nettles and sweet chilies.

* Costilla al Mirasol - spareribs rubbed with mint and aji mirasol peppers, tacu tacu and chimichurri.

* Pluma - a unique cut of the feather loin muscle served with a pine nut risotto, leeks, sage and black garlic

* Chicharron de Cachetes - fried pork cheeks perched neatly on a tower of Yukon gold mashed potatoes with a refreshing salsa criolla.

Could I taste a difference in the meat? Yes, it was definitely more tender than ordinary pork and every dish was utterly delicious. Granted, the very talented chefs could make shoe leather taste great, but I think even a novice home cook would produce noteworthy meals using Iberico pork.

Iberico pork is cut following traditional Spanish butchering methods and separating individual muscle groups. Many cuts are similar to American cuts; here are some of what Nicky USA will offer:

* Pluma Iberica (feather loin muscle) - this cut comes from the shoulder of the loin with more fat, therefore more tasteful even than the loin. It is thought that the shape and size is similar to a feather or pluma in Spanish. This meat stands out for its tenderness, juiciness and flavor. Very small in size, with only two cuts available from each Iberico pig.

* Solomillo Iberico de Bellota (tenderloin) - Located in the back part between the hams and the backbone, in the abdominal cavity. Because of its genetic properties the Iberico pig stands out for its incredible flavor, texture and tenderness. This is no more apparent that in the Solomillo, the most tender cut of all.

* Cabecero Iberico de Bellota - the cabecero comes from the shoulder. This cut is the pork collar. After the chuletero/lomo, the cabecero is the third largest muscle from the Iberico breed. The cabecero is extremely well marbled and can be cooked like traditional shoulders are as well as in steaks, barbecue and roasts.

* Panceta Iberica (rind-on belly) - located in the belly, on the external face of the abdominal cavity. Panceta is the Spanish name for bacon or pork belly. Fermin suggests we simply substitute their pancetta Iberica de Bellota in place of traditional bacon to take recipes up a few notches.

* Presa Iberica de Bellota - this cut of meat is attached to the shoulder and located near the head of the loin. It is very tender and well marbled; it can be prepared quickly over a hot pan.

* Lomo Iberica de Bellota - This cut is taken from along the whole loin from shoulder to hip. The lono is composed of the entire boneless loin. It is one of the largest and most tender pieces of meat from the Iberico pig. You will have very little waste on this cut.

* Secreto o Cruceta Iberica de Bellota - this piece earned its name because it is 'hidden' between the shoulder, ribs and fatback. Very accurate butchering is required to keep the exact amount of fat. This highly grained piece stands out for its wonderful flavor and texture. It could be called a pork skirt steak due to its similar properties to beef skirt steak.

* Costilla Iberica (spareribs) - Located in the thoracic cavity there are two costillas per pig. The costillas are the same cut as spareribs here in the U.S. This meat stands out for its intense juiciness and flavor. Costillas contain a high bone to meat ratio; the meat is highly marbled and infused with the acorn rich flavor.

Home cooks can order directly from Nicky USA. Visit www.nickyfarms.com or call 503-234-GAME (234-4263) for more information. In addition to Iberico pork, Nicky USA can supply you with buffalo, elk, sausages, venison, quail and their most popular item, rabbit. Antelope will soon be added to the offerings. Most meats are available in package weights that a family could eat with ease.

If you prefer to eat food produced locally, connect with Tails and Trotters for its Northwest hazelnut-finished pork products. You can learn more about its products online at www.tailsandtrotters.com or by calling 503-680-7697.

The folks at Nicky shared a few recipes so you can conduct your own taste test with these meats. You might enjoy preparing regular pork and Iberico using the same recipe to really experience the difference.

And mark your calendar for Nicky USA's 12th annual Wild About Game event Sept. 9 at Timberline Resort. This is your opportunity to learn about cooking game and game birds and taste them prepared by some of our area's best chefs. More details will follow closer to the date.

Bon Appetit! Eat something wonderful!

Lomo de Cerdo Asado en Sal con Jamon

(Loin in sea salt with sliced Iberico jamon)

Serves 4 to 6

3 pounds sea salt

4 sprigs fresh rosemary

4 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley

6 sprigs fresh thyme

2 pound Iberico de Bellota pork loin

4 ounces thinly sliced Fermin Iberico jamon

Spanish extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a large bowl mix the salt with 3 tablespoons of water until the salt is slightly damp. (The salt needs to be moist so it will pack well.) Spread half of the salt down the center of a baking sheet and top with 2 rosemary sprigs, 2 parsley sprigs and 3 thyme sprigs. Lay the pork loin on top of the herbs. Place the remaining herbs on top of the pork, then cover completely with the remaining salt, making sure to pack it well around the pork. Bake for 25 minutes at 400°F.

Let the pork rest for 5 minutes. Using a fork and spoon, crack open the side of the salt crust. The upper half of the crust, now a hard shell, should lift off easily. Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let rest for another 5 minutes. Slice the loin into ½ inch thick slices and arrange on four plates. Lay slices of the jamon in between the pork slices. Drizzle with some olive oil and serve warm.

From 'Made in Spain: Spanish Dishes for the American Kitchen' by Jose Andres

Iberico Pork with Honey and Black Pepper

Makes 2 to 4 servings

1 pound Iberico spareribs

4 ounces honey



Mix honey and salt. Rub the honey and salt mixture over ribs. Marinate overnight.

Season with black pepper. Preheat oven to 400°F. Roast ribs for 20 minutes.

Recipe from bellotaimporters.com

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1291, ext. 101 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .