Origin of Casa Jimenez-
The original Casa Jimenez was founded in 1957 by Jose Matias Jimenez in Havana, Cuba. The family left Cuba and came to Tampa, FL in 1960. This new location for Casa Jimenez is a tribute to the original founder and will be run by his son and Grandchildren.
Tapas are a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, in Spanish cuisine. They may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such as chopitos, which are battered, fried baby squid). In select bars in Spain, tapas have evolved into an entire, and sometimes sophisticated, cuisine.
The serving of tapas is designed to encourage conversation because people are not so focused upon eating an entire meal that is set before them.
Origin of Tapas-
The original tapas were the slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry (see below for more explanations). The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales. The tapas eventually became as important as the sherry.
Spanish Hams have a level of Quality that can be judged by the following:
- The type of pig
- The way the pig has been fed
- The part if the pig used to make the ham
- The way the ham is cured
Jamon Serrano - (Grain fed) Salt Cured 12 Months
"ham from the sierra, or mountains" are made from the land race breed of white pig. These pigs are raised and fed grain/cereal.
Jamon Iberico de cebo - (Grain fed) Salt Cured 24 Months
The origin of the Ibérico pig goes back millennia, even to the time of the cavemen who decorated the caves of Spain with their art. These are the original swine of Spain, tamed over the centuries. Only in the last couple of hundred years have the pink pigs of our imagination invaded their territory. The Ibérico hog is big, with slender legs and a very long snout. Ibérico pigs are black, with very little hair. They have black hooves as well, which is the source of the phrase “pata negra” which describes the black hoof that remains on the ham throughout the curing process and distinguishes it from a Serrano ham.
Not all Ibérico pigs win the Jamón Ibérico lottery and live free in the Spanish countryside. Most Jamón Ibérico is made from Ibérico pigs who live normal pig lives eating corn and other feed. It is still an excellent ham, benefiting from the noble lineage of the Ibérico pig. But for the ultimate ham, you must add 'bellota', or acorns.
Jamon Iberico de Bellota - Salt Cured 36-48 Months
These are the Iberico pigs that are lucky enough to be destined for Bellota status, the Ibérico pigs finish their lives on the dehesa (more on this later), in small family clans, until their day of “sacrifice” arrives. The favorite pastime of Ibérico hogs is rooting around the pastures in the dehesa, foraging for acorns as well as herbs and grasses. All this running around feasting, especially during the acorn season, does more than make for a well rounded, happy pig. It makes for exquisitely marbled raw material, packed with natural antioxidants – a key ingredient for extended curing of the ham.
Dehesa and the Bellota -
Dehesa is the name of the oak trees that cover the western area of Spain. During the Fall and Winter months, when the trees drop the bellota (acorns) to the ground is when the free range Iberico pigs fatten up by eating the bellota. Each pig can eat ten kilos of acorn a day.
Jamones de Bellota are prized both for their smooth texture and rich, savory taste. A good iberico ham has regular flecks of intramuscular fat (marbling). Because of the pig's diet of acorns, much of the fat is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol.
The fat content is relatively high compared to jamon serrano, thus giving a rich taste.
Curing Process -
Over the last century, family factories have begun curing these hams in large quantities using the same methods. The hams are left to absorb the salt for a few weeks. Then they are hung in factories that still have open windows to allow the mountain air to circulate around the hams. Ibérico hams usually about two years, Jamón Ibérico de Bellota hams for longer periods.
This extraordinarily long curing process is possible because of the huge amount of fat on each ham and, in the case of the Bellota hams, the antioxidant quality of their diets. Over the curing period they loose nearly half their weight as the fat drips away. An incredible transformation occurs as the winter moves to spring and summer. The salted ham starts to sweat. Because of the salt, bacteria cannot take hold, but massive chemical changes occur. The meat becomes dryer, and cools off as the second winter commences. The special aspect of Ibérico is that it can go through this cycle two or three times. The result is a build up of complex, volatile molecules in the ham that transform it from a piece of pork into an orchestra of flavors. With the Bellota hams, the most miraculous transformation is of the fats. Through this period of heating and cooling, salting and drying, the fats are broken down. Because of the antioxidants in the acorns and the unique curing process, the saturated fats are changed into healthy mono-unsaturated fats high in oleic acid. The only fat higher in oleic acid is olive oil.
Serving the Ham -
The legs of the Hams are hand carved and served in paper thin slices on a plate that can be warmed. This allows the fat to melt a little. Your first bite should be sweet, nutty (on the acorn fed hams), and not to salty. Paired with a Spanish cheese like Manchego and a great glass of wine and you will see why Jamon Iberico is considered to be the Monarchy of Spain.