Cookery school review: Brindisa Ham School
By Susan Low
The course: Ham workshop, £75 (includes tasting, wine-matching session and goody bag)
Where: Brindisa Ham School, Borough Market, London
What it’s like
Brindisa is an importer and purveyor of the finest Spanish delicacies, and its shop in Borough Market is packed to the rafters with spices, cheese, jars and tins full of wondrous ingredients. Pride of place is given to jamón, the country’s exquisite cured ham. Three or four evenings a month, the shop is transformed into a ham-themed classroom, with a trestle table set for 12 with candles and wine glasses. Notepads, a projector and a whiteboard complete the school look.
What I learned
I was a bit nervous when they asked us to sign a waiver form. After all, this class involves both drinking alcohol and handling razor sharp knives. “But do not be afraid,” implores Brindisa’s wine guy, Greg.
Tutor Marcus de Vere, the ham-obsessed principal carver, starts off the two-hour session. With the help of slides, while we students sip chilled glasses of fino sherry, Marcus talks through the factors that determine a jamón’s quality: breed of pig (Spain’s native Ibérico is deemed the best); environment and diet; and the curing and ageing process.
Next, the tasting: we try four types of jamón, from serrano, the least expensive, to a hyper-flavoured Ibérico jamón, from a pig fed on acorns (jamón de bellota, the most expensive). “It’s the acorns that make the difference,” says Marcus.
Greg is up next with a tutored tasting of four distinctive Spanish wines, then it’s the moment of truth: carving time. Using a scarily long knife, Marcus demonstrates how to carve paper-thin slices straight from the leg. When it’s the students’ turn to wield the knives, we tentatively start slicing. It’s not as easy as it looks, but fortunately those waiver forms were redundant as no one ends up needing medical attention – and we leave with the excellent ham we cut.
It was a fun, educational evening. I learned a lot about the curing process and Marcus was great at explaining terms such as ‘pata negra’ (referring to the pig’s ‘black foot’, often a sign of quality). Having the chance to do a bit of carving was a treat, too.