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JOSÉ PIZARRO: ON PRESA
“To enjoy cooking and then eating the meat of animals that have been well bred, well fed and, above all, well cared for, is simply a privilege” – José Pizarro.
There is no animal in Spain better cared for than the black-footed Ibérico de Bellota pigs. They roam the dehesas, the sparsely wooded pasturelands that can only be found in the south-west of Spain, dotted with oak trees and aromatic herbs typical of Mediterranean forests. The pigs are instantly recognisable, with skinny legs, black hides, long snouts, floppy ears and black hooves.
In the dehesas, each pig grazes on a completely natural diet of berries, roots, wild mushrooms and, most of all, the bountiful acorns that drop down from the trees; the name ‘Bellota’ means ‘acorn’. At minimum the pigs each guzzle 3kg of acorns a day, going up to 7kg a day during la montanera, the acorn-foraging season that lasts from September to March. The acorns flavour the tender meat, lending a nuttiness and a richness to every bite.
Cinco Jotas is the producer that supplies José with presa and legs of jamón, and the chef travels to their home in Jabugo twice a year to select the legs himself. Here, Cinco Jotas allocates two hectares of meadow to each animal for roaming, and in a day one pig can cover up to 15km. These fatty pigs are nicknamed ‘olive trees on legs’ due to the large amounts of fat they can store. With all the walking to snaffle up acorns, the fat is developed in the muscles and cells rather than collecting in a thick layer on the surface, leading to marbled meat that is extremely tender and flavourful when cooked.
“These animals are wild, quite similar to wild boars. I have to say these are very happy pigs - I joke that these animals are like the king and queen of Spain. They have a very good life indeed,” explains José.
During their second montanera, the pigs will eat only grass and acorns for the last 60 days of their lives. Then, the pigs will have fattened sufficiently to be ready for a final weigh-in, at which they must weigh at least 145kg, before being slaughtered.
Butchery is largely cultural. In Spain, there are three cuts from the shoulder region of the Iberico pig - secreto, pluma and presa. José sources presa for his London restaurants: thick and juicy, leaner than the pluma or secreto, it is one of the most precious cuts. “It’s very, very popular in my restaurants thanks to the amazing quality of the meat - I couldn’t count how many kilograms we cook each year,” says José. Such is the quality of the meat that minimum intervention is needed - it is simply seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper before being seared on a hot plancha, leaving the presa pink in the middle.
“Walking around the dehesas in Cordoba and Huelva, observing how these animals live, is one of the things that relaxes me the most,” says José.