DIARY OF A JUNKET (Full-length version of column published in Sur in English 20 May 16)
May 24, 2016
Gastronews (317 articles)
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DIARY OF A JUNKET (Full-length version of column published in Sur in English 20 May 16)

In case any reader needs telling yet again, all that glitters is not gold in the world of food and wine writing. As a recent junket demonstrates, the work can be hard, boring and, as in this case, a total waste of time.

 

Alter months of negotiations, one of Spain’s top ham producers arranges for a small group of international journalists to visit their headquarters in Guijelo, Spain’s centre of genuine Iberian ham made from acorn-fed porkers.

 

The two-day trip involves arriving in Madrid by AVE train and thence on to Guijelo, Salamanca, by road, a 6-hour journey that cannot be described as anything other than boring, wifi-less, and short on gastronomic comforts. Midday sees the little group in Madrid trying to cram into a vehicle that is one seat short, contrary to Europcar’s instructions. Negotiations for a bigger vehicle are hampered by the fact there is none available, so the enforced wait is of almost exactly the time that it would take to enjoy a leisurely and hopefully not too uninteresting stop for lunch in some pueblo near a motorway junction. The unavoidable option is a sandwich, dressed up to make it look more interesting, but a sandwich all the same, at Atocha rail station. Execrable. The advertised salad does not exist.

 

Effectively unfed and definitely unwatered (the refuelling stop on the motorway corresponds to a closed cafeteria and a petrol station that only sells non-alcoholic drinks), we unenthusiastically arrive at what must be one of Spain’s ugliest towns, not forgetting to make a tour of various industrial estates while looking for our hotel, courtesy of the technologically-challenged driver. The pending arrival at the hotel raises spirits on the not unreasonable assumption that our hosts will be waiting for us with bounteous samples of their premium products and much-needed cold beers and wine.

 

Dream on. It is straight off to the company’s offices and then to the first of what seems like a half century of ham curing chambers, distributed widely and inconveniently, at least for us, over the local geography and to be inspected over the following 24 hours. As veterans of many such professional visits, we know that at wineries they show you immense stacks of barrels, but at least the winemakers understand you may get bored by the mind-numbing repetitiveness of it all, so after a half-hour it is off to the tasting room to open a few good bottles. Apparently this is a custom unheard of in jamon ibérico-land. After seeing thousands of pieces of dead pig buried in salt and hanging from hooks, five hours later not one sample of ham has been offered, let alone a glass of beer or glass of wine. The sheer monotony of it all only is thankfully broken by a half-decent dinner the first evening in a local restaurant, where the waitress injects some unintended humour by telling us that the wine we had ordered was ‘terrible’, and she would never drink it. The subsequent bottles were better.

 

After a farm visit to see the happy little chaps enjoying their final days, blissfully unaware that they would depart this mortal coil stuffed with acorns, later to be covered in salt, hung up to dry, and much later not be devoured by a pack of hungry, thirsty, tired food writers, it is back to the home ‘jamonery’ for the long-anticipated lunch in the private dining room they tell us about.

 

So, finally, just as we are leaving, and on the second day of the visit, it appears we are finally getting to taste some ham, which is really what we came for in the first place. This will surely be an eat-all-you-can aperitif of a thumping great farewell meal of stewed pork or possibly a roast loin or three.  We are eventually served three miniscule plates of ham, surely no more than 200 grams, along with a few slices of chorizo, lomo and salami.  Then it’s another dash down the motorway to catch the last train to Málaga. The going-away present is two vacuum-packs of ham each, retail value seven euros.

 

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Gastronews

Gastronews

Tu magazine on line con sabor mediterráneo. Te ofrecemos recetas caseras y únicas de la cocina mediterránea, es decir: española, italiana, maltesa, griega... y un sin fín de trucos y recomedaciones para que te alimentes de una forma sana y le saques el mayor partido a los alimentos de temporada. Podrás aprender de las video recetas de nuestro experto enseñándote a hacer los mejores coktails. También, podrás disfrutar de críticas gastronómicas y artículos de opinión. Sin más esperamos que disfrutes cada visitas que nos hagas! Entra... estás en tu casa.

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