World authority on Iberico Ham delivers master class to GMIT students

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 Press Office
Press Release

Visit by Master Carver Mario Hiraldo held in association with the Spanish Embassy

Ibérico Ham from Spain is one of the most extraordinary gourmet products in the world and GMIT’s College of Tourism and Arts (CTA), in partnership with the Spanish Embassy, were delighted to host a master class by master carver Mario Hiraldo at the Galway campus today (Tuesday 25 October).

Over the course of his 18 year career Mario Hiraldo has evolved into the best ambassador of the art of hand slicing the Ibérico ham all over the world. At GMIT today he conducted some ham carving sessions and shared the history and magic behind Ibérico ham from Spain, giving participants a guided hand-carving demonstration, and sharing centuries of tradition and culture, artisan curing processes and organic breeding.

This unique event was for students studying towards degrees in Culinary Arts, Hotel Catering and Culinary Management, and programmes in Professional Cookery and the Total Immersion Training Chef course, as well as for lecturers in the College of Tourism & Arts (CTA).

Event co-ordinator and lecturer Richard Nielsen says students were delighted to meet and learn from a world master carver about this Spanish gourmet tradition: “Having Mario Hidalgo host this master class was an exceptional opportunity for our students to gain an in-depth and hands-on insight into the process and techniques involved to create the exquisite flavour of this uniquely Spanish food.”

“This master class was a continuation of the series of successful master classes organised by lecturers in the College of Tourism and Arts for our students.”

For further information about culinary and professional cookery programmes in GMIT, please visit:

About Ibérico Ham
The Ibérico Ham from Spain is one of the most extraordinary gourmet products in the world – an undisputed ‘gastronomic gem’. It comes from one of the last grazing species in Europe – the Ibérico black pig. Left to roam freely in the dehesa – the southern pasturelands – the combination of exercise and balanced diet renders the ham with a complex, lingering flavor and a signature texture that is both firm and tender. Much like Kobe beef, the black pig’s scarlet red meat is more marbled than other breeds.

The characteristics of the Ibérico pig, with its long legs and strong, pointed snout, and its dark skin and hoofs are the result of its perfect integration into its environment. The pigs use all the food offered by the dehesa, from grass and stubble to wild legumes but, above all, acorns. This balanced, natural food is largely the reason for the excellent organoleptic qualities of the pork. These animals are able to store fatty deposits infiltrated into their muscles, making the meat especially moist and tender.

Production is also carried out today in mixed and industrial drying chambers where optimum conditions are replicated, but the skill, experience and care of the artisan producers are still essential. The minimum curing period for an Ibérico ham is about 18 months, but it may exceed 24 months for larger hams.

In ancient times the ham legs were packed in sea salt and hanged to dry in the cool winter air. Today ham legs are packed in salt for a few weeks, then under the watchful eye of ham maestros, hung in drying chambers with open windows to allow the mountain air to flow, natural flora to grow on the skins and fat to drip away. Unlike prosciutto or Parma ham, Ibérico ham is not covered in lard for the curing process, nor any other external ingredient that would affect its inherent flavor.

The art of hand slicing: Hand sliced and eaten immediately is the best way to enjoy the Ibérico Ham. There are long sharp knives available specially designed for cutting ham into wafer thin slices, and in Spain there are skilled ham slicers adept at their art. Slicing Ibérico ham correctly is a ritual that enhances the tasting experience. Although superb eaten alone, Spanish Ibérico ham can also turn the simplest dishes into a memorable meal.