Saturday, 10 September 2011

Ham School at Brindisa

If there’s a place in London to learn about the intricacies of Spanish ham and how to carve it, it’s almost certainly Brindisa. This foodie powerhouse and Borough Market original is not only UK consumers’ favourite place to buy Spanish food, but a stalwart of many of London’s top restaurants and delis. Brindisa was a pioneer in bringing Jamón Ibérico (the highest grade of Spanish ham) to Britain in the 1990s and is still leading the way.

Twice monthly, Brindisa’s bustling Borough Market shop is transformed into a school of ham, with the team giving ‘pupils’ an insight into how it’s made and the different types available before letting them loose to carve their own meat from the ham legs in store.

The mere fact that there is such a thing called ‘ham school’ in London was enough to persuade me to drop by for a lesson. If I new I'd be greeted with a glass of Manzanilla sherry, olives and salted almonds on arrival, I'd have even less hesitation. We certainly didn't get such good treatment during registration when we were at school. 

Swigging underway and glasses being promptly topped-up as required, the ten or so of us in the class are sat down and shown a genuinely fascinating powerpoint presentation (yes, they do exist) about how ham is made, as well as the different types of it and their individual characteristics. We’re then shown three varieties of hams which Brindisa stock: Extremadura, Salamanca and Jabugo. We taste all of the styles, and different ages of each, with almost everyone in the room commenting on how surprisingly different from each other they are. We then try some of the same ham but cut in different ways, and it’s even more mind-blowing how different the flavour is. Who knew ham could be quite so exciting?

We still haven’t had the best bit, either. Now’s the moment that we’re let loose on the legs with big knives and a sense of judgement only slightly weakened by the sherry. Whilst loving the experience and the slightly unwieldy power, I quickly develop an enormous respect for the surgeon-like professionals who can create beautifully thin slices of shapely, hole-free ham. I carve away, and improve as I go, though couldn't pretend to end up with anything close to retail quality. Still, I leave with a hefty bagful.

For the £75 class fee, we're also each given a goody bag containing yet more ham, tacos and pork fat to cook with at home. I leave contended, educated and just very slightly tipsy and couldn’t recommend ham school highly enough if you're looking to treat yourself.

I'm not convinced many of us would have done too well in a ham exam were they to give us one, but if it was a test of worthwhile and fun cookery courses, Brindisa’s ham school would have passed with flying colours.

Brindisa Ham School
The Floral Hall, Stoney Street, Borough Market, SE1 9AF
Cost: £75

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