Me: “I can’t meet you tonight, I am off to ham school”
Friend: “Ham School?!”
Me: “Yes, ham school! I can’t wait, it’s at Brindisa in Borough Market. You know how much I love that shop.”
Friend: “I’m jealous! Ham school was always my favourite class in school too ;)”
This style of intrepid food exploring I sometimes find myself engaged in confuses and perplexes my friends. They find it highly amusing that I am so engaged with the world of food. But even the most cynical, were somewhat startled by the concept of ham school, and more tellingly they wanted to go.
What was ham school? I was invited by Brindisa to participate in their first ham class, where they would educate me about four different hams, their different origins, both porcine and geographical, the different diets, and complex disparages in flavour and quality that these produce. We were also going to be taught how to slice ham from the leg of an iberico pig, and we would get to take the ham home. Finally there would be manzanilla.
A perfect evening. Perfect in all ways but one, timing. It was on a Thursday, market day, where I am usually busy up till 9pm in Covent Garden tidying away the stall. However, I couldn’t refuse, so I advised that I may be late but that I would get there as early as I could.
I’ve long been a fan of Brindisa. When I lived in Ireland, a few years ago now, I was looking for Judion beans, those enormous Spanish butter beans, and discovered that they stocked them there. I made it my business to go there on my next trip to London, and prompty fell in love. With their chorizo, of course.
After I moved to London, I became an extremely regular visitor, particularly to their Exmouth Market shop, which was near where I worked for a number of years. They did a marvellous chickpea and chorizo stew which I have tried to emulate at home and which I had from their shop at least weekly, along with their delicious and wholesome salads, sandwiches which put most sandwiches to shame, and of course the delicious Spanish cheeses. Sometimes I would treat myself to a bottle of their delicious Albarino, usually an indicator of a bad day at work, a visiting friend, or a trip to Ireland. I worked in publishing you see, and therefore was far from rich. Sadly that shop has since closed, but there is still the shop in Borough Market. Unfortunately, rules dictate that hot food cannot be served in the shop, so there’s no stew, but there are plenty of treats to buy to bring home and indulge in. Then there is also the ham. I was about to learn a lot about that.
The shop is located under one of the railway bridges, with big gates looking on to the market on one side and the street on the other. We were gathered around a large rustic kitchen table, with a plate of ham and sherry in front of us, looking at a large map of Spain. Zac Fingal-Rock Innes, the master carver, and Alberto Ambler, the Assistant Manager, guided us through the map, telling us in fascinating detail, where the differences in taste, and sometimes quality originate for each ham. We learned about the different breeds, and each one we discussed we then tasted and described. It was fascinating, like a wine tasting, but with ham. The class was informal and passionate, the loved their subject area and it was infectious. I found myself wanting to learn more. And to eat more.
The hams were delicious. We tried four, the final (and most expensive of course) was my favourite, and at £15 per 100g, it will be a treat, and a much appreciated one. Joselito Gran Reserva Bellota from Guijuelo, Salamanca, an Ibérico pig and therefore acorn fed, cured for 3-4 years. I could talk forever about these hams, and the pigs but I see I am already approaching 700 words, so I’ll get on with it. Just this one bit, the more expensive the ham, it seems the fussier the pig. These pigs will travel huge distances to eat the right acorn. Brilliant! I love that attention to detail, and the fussiness. I respect them for that.
The hams were by now tasted and notes taken, had some delicious manzanilla. It was time to learn how to carve the ham. I was looking forward to this, I’ve always wanted to be shown how to do it. I took my place by the ham and proceeded to cut under the guidance of Zac. It didn’t seem too bad at all. In fact, it seemed fine. I was no expert, but I was finding it relatively straightforward, how could this be? Zac asked if I had done it before as I seemed like a natural, which I definitely had not. I mentioned in jest that I had done anatomy (and therefore human dissection) in my university years, which it turns out Zac had too. So, maybe that was it? My knife skills (ack! forgive me) translated from the lab to the kitchen.
Ham sliced and packaged up, it was time to go home with a little bag of ham treats, including some fat to render and have with potatoes or similar. I had a great time and would highly recommend it. Thanks to Celia for arranging the invite and to the lovely people at Brinidisa for arranging such a wonderful evening. Lovely people, lots of knowledge, and lots of tasty ham. The classes will be running from November for £65. Given the quality of the hams, the knowledge of the staff and the uniqueness of the experience, it’s a great value evening.
Brindisa at Borough Market
The Floral Hall
London SE1 9AF
Tel & Fax: 020 7407 1036