When you think of the food of Spain, dishes like paella and patatas bravas might come to mind. The country is also known for Iberico ham, a specific type of the cured meat that’s widely considered the best in the world.
Now, Vancouver is home to a “master ham carver”. Antonio Romero Casado, the founder of ARC Iberico Imports, hails from San Pedro Alcantara, which is in the province of Málaga in southern Spain. Casado came to Vancouver three years ago from London, where he worked at Tozino, a Spanish bodega and “ham bar”. Over the years, he has honed his carving skills in what he calls an art form.
At private events, parties, weddings, and other gatherings throughout Metro Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver Island, Whistler, and beyond, Casado sets up a full leg of ham on a special stainless-steel stand and slices the meat with an extremely long and sharp knife.
"The meat is a bit sweet and melts in your mouth," Casado says in an interview at a downtown coffee shop.
So what makes this ham so great?
There are a few different types, or grades, of Iberico ham, depending on what the animals eat. Iberico de Bellota is the finest, on par with caviar and truffles
It comes from the Iberico breed, which are pigs that descend from wild boars that populated the Iberian Peninsula thousands of years ago. They’re called “pata negra” in Spain because of their dark-grey hair and black hooves. Nowadays, these pigs roam freely in dehesas, land dotted with holm oak trees. The pigs feed on herbs and nuts, but during October to January, they feast on acorns. (Bellota means acorn.)
The acorns are rich in oleic acid, which is also found in olives. They give the ham a subtle nutty, woodsy flavour.
The curing and ageing of the hams is just as important as the taste. The ham legs are first chilled overnight then covered in Andalusian sea salt. From there, they’re washed and hung to dry. The final part of the curing process can take up to three years.
Casado can occasionally be found at the tapas bar at Per se Social Corner, slicing and serving Iberico via trolley service.
He’s holding an Iberico Pop-up Shop on July 21 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Commissary Connect (401 Industrial Avenue). (He also supplies products to various restaurants and businesses, including Granville Island's Dussa's Ham and Cheese.)