Three 15-pound ham legs dangle in a refrigerated case at the entry to Taste of Spain, Reading Terminal Market’s newest permanent vendor. A fourth levitates behind glass on the counter across the stall. It’s clamped into a metal brace called a jamonero that keeps the ham stable as co-owner Vanesa Peredo uses a 10-inch knife to shave off crimson slices of this fat-marbled treasure, jamón Ibérico.
For Spanish restaurant regulars, this will be familiar: Jamón serrano, a more accessible cousin, is found on most tapas menus around town.
Iberian ham is pricier, and for good reason — it’s made from free-ranging black Ibérico pigs fed an acorn-heavy diet, supplemented by the grass, berries, and whatever else the pigs find while roaming around the meadows of southwestern Spain. The result of this pampered upbringing, plus a few years of curing, is ham that’s equally lavish.
“Very nutty — and it melts in your mouth,” Peredo says. “It’s extremely nice.”
An order of ham at Taste of Spain also comes with a bit of a show. The leg is bony, difficult to cut, Peredo says, “and not every slice is the same.” Peredo and her staff spent two days training with their ham purveyor, Cinco Jotas, in Huelva, Spain on how to trim, carve, preserve, and present the jamón. Since the stand opened in mid-December, she estimates they’ve gone through about a leg a week.
Taste of Spain originally debuted in the market as TortiYeah, using one of the wheeled carts the market started leasing to merchants in 2017. Peredo and her husband, Alejandro Fernandez, sold tapas such as Spanish tortilla (think eggs, not corn), ensaladilla (Spanish potato salad), and croquettes.
Last spring, they competed against three other semifinalists for a chance to win a permanent spot. They did a demo in the market’s City Kitchen, presenting their concepts and products to four judges. In the end, they won. Their secret weapon? A ham leg.
To get the full flavor from jamón, serve it warm — “it has to sweat,” Peredo says. Wine is perfect for pairing, but in a pinch, a cold beer from Molly Malloy’s, also at Reading Terminal, will do.
$23 for 1 ounce of jamón Ibérico and picos at Taste of Spain in Reading Terminal Market, 51 N. 12th St., 215-883-8668. Taste of Spain also sells other Spanish meats, cheeses, olives, pickles, and products, including paella kits, olive oil, and sweets.