Who was the first inspired person to combine air-cured ham and melon? Well, it might be the Italian in the room who would raise her or his hand, yet it appears it was a Spaniard. We don’t know who but it’s easy enough to imagine the personality. It was a woman, of course. She had planted melon in her farm garden on the Iberian peninsula, and the fragrant orbs were ripe and luscious. She picked several, then went to her cellar where she hung her air cured hams, probably two a year because most families had just one pig to themselves.
Not Just Any Ham
Her ham wasn’t just any ham, but one from her pig that had roamed the woods and eaten acorns. The acorn is an amazing nut because within its meat is all the energy to grow an oak tree, and that isn’t a modest affair. The acorn is buttery and rich, filled with protein and minerals. The pig? Pata negra of course, the best pig on the peninsula and perhaps in the world. The acorn gives to this pig its special rich, almost sweet flavor and buttery texture. So her ham wasn’t just any ham.
Maybe Green, Maybe Orange
She cut her melons, which may have been a green rather than an orange one. She dressed the melon with a light shallot vinaigrette, using her home made vinegar and oil. Then she took the ham and with her long, flat knife cut thin slices – but not TOO thin – and lay them over the melon. Et aquí es – voila! – a first course for a crowd.
The Entire World Copies
The French, the Italians, the entire world has copied this Spanish woman’s example, as well we all should. For a sweet and ripe melon served with salty, rich ham is a beautiful thing indeed. It is a frequent dish at my table not just because it is simple, but because it is so elegant. I like to adapt the idea and turn the combination into individual bites. This is a very pretty way to serve them and a handy one for an appetizer, a picnic, a lovely mid-afternoon snack with a glass of chilled Muscat Sec or an Alberiño. Shower them with beautiful black pepper, and make sure you have toothpicks handy. This will become your go-to appetizer of summer.