My colleague Juan Francisco Palacios Temprano has a large family in Asturias, Northern Spain. This region boasts a rich tradition of making cured meats from a famous Spanish breed of pig. Every winter, when the weather is forecast to be cold and dry, the men in the family slaughter a pig after having spent more than six months raising it with love and care on a varied diet based on kitchen leftovers. Fortunately for the pig, there’s no abattoir involved in the slaughtering process. Juan’s grandmother and aunts then set to work to transform the pig into the very best hams and sausages. Hung to dry in the cold and dry winter air, the meat will be available for consumption from the following summer onwards.
Juan went home to Spain during the summer and brought me a chorizo made by his aunt. It was one of the most delicious foods Mrs. Eichholtz and I have ever eaten. Sadly, the chorizo is long gone by now. Juan’s aunt has invited me over to help make the next batch of sausages this coming winter, so I may be able to take a few more of them back to Maastricht with me, but winter is still so far away…
Fortunately, there’s a place in Maastricht that can supply us with the necessary Spanish hams and sausages for the next few months: the Spanish shop in the Kesselskade, run by Paco and his wife Ingrid, who’s from Maastricht. Paco used to be a chef and later sold Spanish hams, sausages and olives in the market. The shop is a more recent upgrade.
It’s always a bit of a challenge to purchase goods from Paco. As he engages in long chats with each customer, it might take him a while to get to your order of 100 grams of luncheon meat or some Spanish canned food. Back when he ran a market stall, the stall itself was often set up in the morning, but Paco himself was nowhere to be seen yet. The most effective strategy is to go to his shop with a Mediterranean mindset and a great deal of patience. If you’re in a hurry, it’s better to visit the shop when Ingrid is manning the counter. She’s much more efficient.
Juan and I began by comparing two of Paco’s cured hams: his jamón serrano and his jamón iberico. Paco cut the slices on the spot. First up was the jamón serrano. While it’s good, fat-streaked and smooth, it doesn’t quite have the mildly sweet undertone that characterises very well-dried – and well-salted – ham. It’s because of this undertone that cured ham combines so well with melon or figs. Paco’s jamón iberico does have this mildly sweet flavour, and its salty taste is less pronounced to boot. It’s subtler and richer. Unfortunately, it’s also much more expensive: €5.50 per 100 grams, compared with €2.70 per 100 grams for the jamón serrano.
Exclusive to Paco’s shop are ‘serrano butts’, cuts from the butt end of the cured ham. These ham ends are much drier than cuts from the centre and lack the smoothness and juiciness thereof. But because they’re so dry, the flavour is much more concentrated. Serrano butts can be sliced into very thin strips and eaten as a tasty snack, but I like to use them as a seasoning in stews, soups and lentil or bean casseroles, or to sauté onions in the fried pork fat. Delicious.
For those UM staff and students who live in the city centre and are looking to branch out from DeliBelge, Paco’s wife makes phenomenal €3 bread rolls filled with jambón serrano and aioli or tomato sauce, or with fresh pâté if Paco has made any. They’re very, very good and definitely worth the walk to the Kesselskade.
But the reason why we went to Paco’s shop was to try the sausages, of course. Do Paco’s sausages measure up to the ones made by Juan’s Asturian aunts? Paco offers a wide selection of sausages, so we quickly went to work. The standard chorizos are spicy and quite tasty, but they come with a slight hint of sourness, probably due to the preservative used. Our taste buds rejoiced, however, at Paco’s chorizo ibérico. Made from ibérico pork, it has a beautifully rich flavour. The role of the pimentón – smoked paprika – is supporting rather than overpowering, there’s no trace of sourness and the texture is good. This sausage definitely measures up to those made by Juan’s family in Asturias.
Paco told us he originally sold primarily these kinds of superb sausages, but his customers were more interested in the cheaper kinds. It turns out, then, that the infamous Dutch frugality can be found in Maastricht as well.