CTbites Invites: Barcelona Iberico Ham Event Recap

James Gribbon

Hearty souls splashed through the rain Dec. 7 on the way to Barcelona Restaurant in Fairfield, and were rewarded with a tornado of pork. Old world cheeses supplied by event host Michele Buster of Forever Cheese sat on the tables, piled on wooden boards, and would be joined by small blocks of quince jam and a roast suckling pig that ought to be legally classified as a mind-altering substance, but the star of the show, from start to finish, was a shoulder of cured Iberico ham.

Round slices of loin or lomo, well marbled enough to pass for miniaturized capicola at a glance, lay in neat, undulating rows along white rectangular plates, and shared this presentation with small slabs of lean paletilla (shoulder), and slices from the ham so thin and unctuous they were transparent.

Cheese, Spanish ham and quince jam were joined by arrope, an Iberian country concoction of Arab extraction made from grape and pumpkin must many times reduced into a sweet, amazingly rich syrup. Drizzling a bit on the bread or Mahon cheese was... life affirming. Twenty two adults sat in the cozy confines of Barcelona's throwback, lounge like interior and giggled over this food like an elementary school class getting someone's Mom's cupcakes. Michele brought the class to order and began to explain just what, exactly, we were about to eat.  

An Iberico pig, it could fairly be said, leads a charmed life. Given about a hectare each on which to forage, they eat only immense acorns from a native species of oak. "Puro bellota" is the highest grade of Iberico, denoting a diet that is purely acorns. The pigs love the fatty acorns, and the farmers respect the pigs, going so far as to play music for the Ibericos on their last walk so they won't become stressed before they meet the great pig in the sky. Happy pigs make happy diners, we can confirm, although the sangria and sherry may have helped.

Executive Chef Hilton DaSilva cooked for the assembled and happily burbling crowd, and several courses of tapas hit the tables, including white bean puree with lomo, Arugula salad with kumato tomatoes and paletilla, cabecero (top loin) with sunny side up quail egg and a spicy chipotle aioli he also uses as a side for Barcelona's calamari. Crispy brussel sprouts also made their way to the tables, possibly just to ameliorate any lingering dietary guilt, along with herb roasted potatoes and thyme-glazed carrots.

The suckling pig arrived like royalty, on a four-man tray instead of a sedan chair, and applause nearly broke out. Chef DaSilva only intended to show off his work before he took it back into the kitchen for carving, but by that point the group had devolved into a pack of lions and would have none of it: showing the roast pig to us and then taking it away was a prospect we could not bear to comprehend. The pig would be carved before our ravenous, fevered eyes, please. Its skin crackled as the carving began.

The pork was so soft it could barely be held on a fork. The skin had the consistency of a potato chip. The first bite went something like this.  No kidding. I have had some very good roast pig before, but this time when I took my first bite I practically saw stars. It was astounding. Andy Pforzheimer, co-founder of Barcelona, was in attendance, and noted that the restaurants regularly conduct Sunday prix fixe pig roasts. They are, in a word, recommended. 


Keep an eye out for future CTbites Invites events.