Nave Lagoa

How to identify a good Iberian ham

During the pre-holiday weeks there is a classic that always comes back, together with the lists of the best beaches and the best novels: an article on false friends on trips.

Between Portuguese and Spanish there are many more similarities than differences. The linguist Rosana Ortega says in her studies that up to 85% of both languages ​​is similar or easily understandable. But there is always some word or expression that can confuse us. Some do it in a funny way, like the “calças de ganga”, that a Spanish speaker may think is a shoe with a very low price and are actually jeans. Others, somewhat more complex, like when you hear about “um sucesso espantoso”, that in Spanish sounds like a terrible event, and is in fact a surprising success.

Mothers and grandmothers have always asked their children not to play with food. And it is a field in which, in general, there are usually not so many confusions. If anything, at the door of the Portuguese restaurants, where there is sometimes a “PUXE” sign that confuses both the Spaniards and the English, who may understand push when in fact it means the opposite. But once that small entry barrier is crossed, the menus are usually offered in several languages ​​and also the delicacies are usually known in their original language: caviar, champagne or lobster sound similar in many languages ​​and ensure a more than correct survival in a night of conquest. At least until the bill arrives. Or until the waiter asks if everything is fine and the Spanish responds using the adjective exquisito, which in Portuguese is written with an s, esquisito, and is more commonly used when something has a strange taste.

Actually, the only big problem with the food could happen with the Iberian ham. In that area, involuntarily, the Portuguese may have hit the nail on its head by using the word presunto, a derivative of the participle of the Latin verb siccare (to dry). To Spaniards the term always generates certain doubts and smiles when they see it across the border because presunto in Spanish is the adjective that is used for those arrested criminals who have not been convicted yet.

But, if we think about it, it is the Spaniards themselves who may have fueled this possible mistrust, having traditionally very badly resolved the identification between a good ham and a presumed one. For years, the use of the “Iberian” denomination has been too wide, and sometimes the trial and error was essential to know if we were dealing with a good ham, the Iberian purebred that has grown in the pastures and has been fed mainly with acorn. Since 2014, better official regulations and a code of exclusive colors and terms have been introduced to avoid confusion. Thus, a black seal is used to distinguish hams of 100% Iberian race fed with acorns in the field. The name pata negra is also reserved for these hams. With red seal is identified the pig hams fed in the field with acorn but of mixed race. With green seal, animals fed with feed and acorn. And with white seal, animals fed exclusively with feed.

There will always be those who try to skirt the rules and take advantage of the gray areas but the taste and texture of a good ham is unmistakable and the price is always parallel to its quality, so the best advice in this case is to forget the bargains, the gangas in Spanish, that can end up leaving us a strange taste, esquisito in Portuguese.

We open the forum on this subject using a traditional Spanish proverb: have you ever been given a cat instead of a hare (gato por liebre)? Something that seemed to be a bargain has turned out to be something very different?