Sometimes, I start my day at 10:30 a.m. with a European-style baguette at the artisan shop four blocks from my home. Today’s crisp shell holds between its yielding inner lips French ham, brie, butter and jalapeño jam.
The words “gluten” and “dairy” do not have their meaning here, as they do when I say things like, “I avoid gluten and dairy.”
This morning, I am not avoiding. I am savoring.
I am swelling with memories of having this at least once every day in Spain, where they will put anything between two slices of a baguette and give it to you for 2€: tortilla española, squid, and often just a single razor-thin slice of jamón ibérico. Nothing else.
Think about it. It’s so beautifully un-American. A slice of jamón and bread. No cheese, no squishy sauce to coax your mouth into accepting it. You have to trust you’ll be ok at the other end—the cotton-dryness of the bread may put your mouth into a start of alarm, but only until it finds the jamón, its fat sweating into the inner cushion of bread, and there it is—the softness, the oils, the impossibly rich peppery barnyard flavor, and then it’s gone. It vanishes just as quickly as you put it in your mouth. And you want more.
The Spanish could put more slices of jamón ibérico in the sandwich, of course, and charge more for it. But they don’t. You’d have to buy five baguettes, toss all the bread, and put the jamón on one sandwich before they’d do it for you themselves.
Because jamón ibérico is meant to be savored in its juxtaposition: How can this much flavor be packed into such a featherweight thing? The power of ibérico is in the marvel.