A Taste Navarra: Basque Iberian Ham
The Ultimate Basque Iberian Ham Experience is a gastronomic trip that takes you off the beaten track once again to learn about a special gourmet product that nearly went extinct. We travel up to the Mugiro province of Navarra and learn about the Euskal-txerris, or Basque Iberian pigs. Once nearly extinct, they were brought back from the brink to produce some of the finest ham in the world and they are one of Spain’s best kept secrets. These beautiful free-range and acorn-fed Basque pigs are characterised by their large black and white spots. There are only 4000 of this breed left in the entire world, and one fourth of them are in Navarra, although their numbers had dwindled to less than 100 worldwide in the early 1980s. They produce the finest of quality pork, each cut of which is beautifully marbled and full of flavor. Basque pigs grow more slowly and develop more fat than modern breeds, making them less well-suited to intensive commercial meat production, but ideal for the creation of cured pork products such as Bayonne ham. We visit one of the few remaining Euskal-txerris farms and savor a culinary extravaganza with a fourteen-course sampling menu that gives a variety of shape, colour and texture to the many uses of this unique product.
We continue this day’s adventure with a digestif in a quaint village tavern at a nearby cider farm – a charming place to enjoy a drink of crisp organic local cider. And we make one last stop by driving up to the top of a mountain range so as to admire the magnificent views of the Pyrenees. Here, we visit a twelfth century Romanesque sanctuary, or hermitage, perched at the top, named for Saint Michael. The legend of Teodosio de Goñi who founded the sanctuary is a fascinating one: it involves scandal and murder, a chain-bearing penance, a dragon slaying, and the appearance of Saint Michael to save the day. Teodosio’s chains remain in the hermitage, along with a reliquary of Saint Michael. A visit to this place is a step back into medieval times, and a perfect ending to a perfect day.