FELIX JOSE MARTINEZ: EL CORTADOR DE JAMON
I have, as you may have noticed, discovered the art of posting movies footage to the blog. Hurrah! I hear you scream collectively.
Well, more of a deep groan, I am pretty certain.
However, in this instance, you are going to thank me. Why? Well, HP and I just got back from a rather splendid few days in Zaragoza (apart from a nightmare journey home) about which, I shall post in a short while.
HP, had of course, done his three months worth of research for our short stay. I usually reckon one month of pouring over the guide books and internet for each night we are staying somewhere. What he came across this time was LA JAMONERIA on Calle Bruno Salano.
A place in Spain, selling ham. OK, I know there are thousands of the places. Hell, we have visited most of them. But, bear with me, this is different. La Jamoneria is very different because this place is owned by one Felix Jose Martinez.
In the world of Jamon, Felix is The Maestro, The Guvn’r, Numero Uno, the well, you are getting the picture by now. He is considered the finest cutter of Jamon in the whole of Spain and has won more awards than you can shake an acorn at. He is the stuff of legends. He can cut ham so thinly you can read the maker's name on the knife he is using.
La Jamoneria is quite a walk from the old town of Zaragoza, but, like two pilgrims in search of something we hold sacred and holy, we didn’t mind the route march particularly as we were fuelled by any number of cana on the way. By the time we arrived, it was early afternoon and the restaurant was preparing itself for lunch. They offer the usual suspects of a Spanish menu, but we came here for one thing and one thing only. Iberico.
At the side of the bar sat three fine specimens in perfect condition and the gentleman behind the bar began to cut wafer thin slices for us as we stood and watched in admiration. This was fine cutting. Better than any I had seen before. But, this was not El Cotardor, this was the Segundo. A man of great skill, but where was Felix Jose Martinez? The silky acorn beauty of the jamon was tinged with a little disappointment.
Then, the man behind the bar pointed over our shoulder and said gently “maestro” as a wavy haired man in a plaid shirt ambled amiably into the restaurant. I am pretty sure that HP gave a little “eek” as we turned around to see him.
At first, it did not look like he was going to cut the jamon. He seemed more concerned with his ever ringing mobile phone. But, then, he moved to check the hams and picked up the knife. For us, it was like watching Ronaldinio lace up his boots or Stern pick up his violin for a bit of a fiddle. “Puedo?” I asked brandishing my camera and he let me catch the last few fleeting seconds of his art.
Then he had to stop to speak to another customer and we thought that was it. That was enough. We came we saw, we ate Jamon. That would have been good enough. But then, Felix Jose Martinez came around the counter and introduced himself. HP said later “it was like shaking hands with God”
He spent the next half an hour with us showing us around the restaurant, showing us the hams he had in storage. He buys hams that have been aged for twelve months and then ages them a further twelve months at the exact correct temperature. He also explained why machine cutting of Jamon is a sacrilege as the friction from the fast blade actually begins to cook the jamon and destroys a huge percentage of the flavour.
Finally, he showed us his collection of clippings from around the world. He is is huge demand, not just in Spain, but around the world although, shamefully he has not demonstrated his craft in the UK (we are pondering on ways of changing that as we speak) He is most in demand in Japan where he told us, like Spain, people are prepared to pay for great quality.
From his clippings, he took a small wiro bound pamplet which contained information on all the hams of Spain. He apologised that it may be out of date but wanted us to take it because we ‘obviously loved Jamon” and that in his eyes made us just OK with him. We asked him to sign it which he did “All best wishes from your friend Felix Martinez. El Cortador De Jamon” And yes, we did giggle like schoolgirls and so would you, don’t deny it.
We had our pictures taken with him and then left him with a promise that we would e-mail him anything we wrote and the pictures we had taken and then we left him to get on with his real life after pandering for a long to a couple of Jamon groupies like us.
We paid our bill and left after another hearty handshake from a hand with a God given gift and went out from the restaurant into bright sunlight.
The rest of the day was a typical blur of over indulgence and we would, no doubt, feel wretched the next morning. But, we had just met El Cortador De Jamon and no one can take that away from us.