Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (acorn fed Iberian ham) in Jabugo, Spain (2015).
Many things were familiar about Southern Spain. Like the fact that the finest cured hams come from little Southern towns out in the middle of nowhere and most of the sherry in Jerez is aged in American oak barrels, just like the country hams and whisky of Kentucky & Tennessee. Similarities don’t stop there, the hills of Huelva Province and the mountains of the Province of Cádiz aren’t so different from driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia or the countryside of Central California. Even areas of the coast, like Nerja, could be mistaken for coastal Orange County. The Spanish architecture and language in LA, via Mexico, automatically makes the buildings and the words recognizable. Throw in Roman ruins and aqueducts similar to Italy or Greece and centuries old villages on high cliffs surrounded by walls like in the countryside of France and it feels as though I could have already been to Southern Spain. It quickly becomes clear as soon as you start digging into the details though, that this is only an illusion. Those words that sound so familiar from other forms of Spanish, they don’t mean exactly what you think they mean. Those mountain towns in Cádiz, like Medina-Sidonia, have a long Muslim history, where you learn alfajores are actually of Arab origin and several Spanish foods have roots in Morocco. That coastline that looks like it could be Laguna from a distance? It has a nice view of North Africa. Then there is the ham, made from Iberian pigs fed local acorns, well there isn’t really anything else like that ham.