Jamon Siesta

In our 2009 issue of DINE, we wrote about the prized Jamon Iberico. Since then many have asked where it can be found. There are a few restaurants in Toronto that serve this delicacy, like Pangaea. It is also sold at Pusateri’s. When it was first imported to Canada in the spring of 2008, I had the pleasure of sampling it at that year’s Toronto Taste. One taste and I was hooked. Shortly thereafter I received unrelated information about a language program in Spain called Pueblo Ingles.

It seemed like a sleep-away camp at a luxurious resort in a remote medieval village called La Alberca in Northwestern Spain.

My idea was to apply for this enriching vacation, and afterwards research the Jamon Iberico for DINE. There are over three hundred producers of this ham in Spain, but only one exports to Canada: Fermin Iberico. While contacting, and informing of my schedule, I asked for the exact location in Spain, so that after my program I could travel there from La Alberca. Their response: “We are in La Alberca”.

A trip to this World Heritage area is a wonderful glimpse into a long ago time. Cobbled streets lead to a central square where a statue of Jesus towers over a fountain serving as a walk-up saloon for the village pets, including the San Anton pig. Alternately roaming, lounging, or being fed by neighbours, “el marrano de San Anton” is an annual gift to the village from Fermin Iberico. Raffled off at year’s end by the mayor, the earnings are donated to a non-profit organization—a modernization of a tradition that began six hundred years ago when Jewish farmers donated pigs to villages to fend off the Inquisition…

At Pueblo Ingles everything is planned out, and it really does feel like a break from “real life”. The program runs from Friday to Friday, and begins with a welcome lunch over paella and wine in Madrid. We depart by bus to La Alberca and, upon arriving at our resort are handed keys to our own cozy private villas. Each day we meet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the main dining room, while the rest of the day is at our leisure–with one caveat: whether strolling the grounds or mingling at the bar, we must speak only English. For 50 minute intervals we are partnered with one, two, or a group of Spaniards for English conversation. Everyone has different interests, and the conversation range is wide open. The level of English is high, and the purpose, for the Spaniards, is practice and comfortability when working in English.

Every afternoon there is a siesta following lunch with a few hours free time, and one whole day is dedicated to exploring the remote village, including a wine tasting in an old stone cellar with Jamon Iberico and Manchego cheese. I’m in heaven.

La Alberca has amazing Iberico products, not just well-known for its ham, but also for chorizo, lomo, and salchichon. The whole week during the program is free of charge for all meals and lodging at a 4 star villa resort. Tucked in the mountains, far away from daily stress, the cleanest air surrounds some of the most interesting conversation over the best wine, cheese, and jamon the world over.

A rewarding and rejuvenating experience. Pueblo Ingles: www.morethanenglish.com/anglos/index.asp

Buen viajes!

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