When Raquel and I had dinner after the Museo on Friday, we concocted a plan to go to Aracena for the ‘Jamòn Ibérico Feria’. Now I have come to realize that if anything characterizes Spain, it is the wide variety of traditions and festivals spread throughout the territory. Aracena is a very small village located 47 miles northeast out of Sevilla in the province of Huelva. And this town is seriously devoted to the production of Jamòn Ibérico! Jamòn Ibérico is a delectable cured meat that is from Black Iberian Pigs. These pigs roam oak forests along the border between Spain and Portugal eating only a acorn diet. And, occasionally olives. The hams are categorized by the pigs diet and the percentage of Iberian ancestry. In compliance with Spain’s Denominación de Origen Rules on food products these pigs need only be 50% Ibérico. The outstanding, superior, and premium is Jamòn Ibérico de Bellota (acorn). And this grade is broken down into two categories. The black label recognizes 100% Ibérico pure breed Iberian pigs fed only an acorn diet. The red label distinguishes Jamòn Ibérico de Bellota from free range pigs that are not pure breed but have also fed exclusively on acorns. The percentage of Iberian ancestry must be specified on the label. The next grade is the green label Jamòn Ibérico Cebo de Campo. This ham is from pigs that are pasteurized and fed acorns and grain. And, lastly, the 3rd type and final grade is a white label called Jamòn Ibérico de Cebo or simply Jamon Ibérico. These pigs are fed only grain and cured for 24 months. Moreover, the word puro can be added to any of the above when both the mother and the father are pure breed and they are both registered. Also, in addition, the term Paleta refers to the front legs, Jamòn to the hind legs, and caña de limo referring to loin cuts. The curing process is anywhere from 12 months to 48 months. I’d love nothing more than to continue this discussion and to more extensive lengths, but I will get back to the feria.
Raquel and Manuel picked me up at 10:00 on Sunday morning and the three of us were off to Aracena! And I could not be more excited! It was a beautiful road trip and these two familiarized me with everything from the ‘Encina tree’ and ‘Belotta’ to the ‘Rio Tinto River’ (a river that literally looks like red wine was dumped in it), and even NASA presence in this region (Manuel says that the dirt is similar to the dirt that is on Mars!).
Our first stop in Aracena was ‘The fountain of Tears’. We immediately whipped out the selfie stick and went to town (yes, Jan, a selfie stick)! The legend at this fountain says that the daughter of a Christian King fell in love with an Arabic man. This upset the King so deeply that he buried his daughter alive. She cried so many tears from being lovesick that they came through the earth-hence the fountain.
Advancing along, we were headed down the road en route to the feria.
We stopped in a beautiful little gourmet store to do a little cheese tasting. And we bought some cheese to take home.
We had arrived at the feria and it was astonishing. Really truly extraordinary.
Manuel and Raquel ordered our Ibérico ham and we walked to the bar with our plate of Jamòn. We than ordered Miga’s and pimentos fritos. Miga’s are quite possibly the best thing I have ever ate in my life! I had seriously died and went to chorizo heaven! I was so thirsty that I must have drank a gallon of Fanta limón. We ordered little pork sandwiches called ‘montaditos de lomo’and more Miga’s. We just walked around eating all afternoon and it was marvelous! There were massive tents set up and people cooking everywhere I looked!!! The chorizo has an ancient, unaffected origin as it is closely linked to ‘the slaughter of the pig’. This is a gastronomic, festive, cultural, and religious tradition in most rural villages of Spain. And, here was the very best chorizo that I had ever had! Needless to say when Raquel spotted a booth selling 10 quality links for €10, we all pitched in and brought some home! We also brought home many other items from leche frita, to miel with piñon.
Aracena is also known for ‘La Gruta de la Maravillas’ or ‘The Cave of Wonders’. It is a limestone cave located under the ground in the old center of Aracena. The length of this cave is over 1 kilometer (.62 mile), and has 3 levels and 6 lakes. There is even a room that looks like a Cathedral!
I was very interested to learn how caves like this are formed so Manuel gave me a little science class. And here it is in a castaña nut shell: Stalactites, which comes from the Greek word “to drip”, is a type of formatiom that hangs from the ceiling of caves. Stalagmites is the formation that comes from the ground. Stalactites form from the deposition (deposition occurs when sediment (sediment can be any naturally occurring material that is broken down by a process. Por ejemplo, weathering and erosion) are added to a landform (a landform is a natural feature of the solid surface of the Earth. Por ejemplo, hills and the sea)) of calcium carbonate (common substance found in rocks), and other minerals, which is precipitated (creation of a solid from a solution) from mineralized water solutions (a mixture compose of two or more substances). The solution travels through the rock until it reaches an edge and if this is on the roof of a cave, it will drop down. The average growth is .13 mm a year!
The cave tour took about an hour. And, lastly on our way out of Aracena we stopped and visited the Medieval Castle and Priory Church of la Senora del Major Dolor.
You can see the castle in the background of this picture of Raquel and I.
I think this was my favorite day so far in Spain! Everything about it was amazing!!! I had the creme de la creme of friends for company, delectable food, a cave that was millions of years old, historic castles, a selfie stick, and Ibérico Jamon! So I ask you, what else could a girl ask for?