Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Rare ingredients from around the world

There are some food items that are only available in certain regions of the world. So, while you head out on your next trip, make sure you pick these rare foods that are as special and the destination itself:

Iberico de Bellota Ham
Where: Spain
Why: Alternatively called pata negra, ibérico (Iberian ham) is a type of cured ham, produced mostly in Spain. Known to be the original swine of Spain, the ibérico pig is big and black with slender legs and a long snout. They are also fatter animals, with veins of fat running through the muscle, allowing the ibérico hams to be cured for longer duration. This results in a much more intense flavour with a unique note of sweetness. But what makes this ham really special is the bellota (acorns) that the pigs graze upon in the Spanish oak forests. Ibérico de Bellota can cost twice as much as a normal ibérico ham, as it makes for exquisitely marbled raw material packed with natural antioxidants—a key ingredient for extended curing of the ham.

What: Single-origin chocolates
Where: Switzerland
Why: Essentially, single origin chocolate is chocolate made from beans from one region, sometimes even from one farm. They bear the distinctive nature of their country of origin, extending a typical rare quality in them. With the advent of single origin chocolate, comes the idea of blending varieties of single origin chocolate to produce superior chocolate. Switzerland's Felchlin and Durig bring together some of the world's finest and rarest chocolate, all from single-source estates and using the world's finest cacao. While most dark chocolates are blended to create a repeatable flavour, all of their single-origin chocolates boast the distinctive nature of their country of inception.

What: Poulet de Bresse
Where: France
Why: The Poulet de Bresse is a breed of chicken that originates from the Bresse area of the Rhône-Alpes region of France. It is favoured for their juicy, tender flesh and risqué flavour. Known to be a premium product, top chefs of the likes of Gordon Ramsey have imported poulet de Bresse from France for anything between £20 and £40 a bird. These special birds are so exclusive that they come with their own individual birth certificates and they cook more like guinea fowl because of their peculiar structure.

What: Argan oil
Where: Morocco
Why: Produced from the kernels of the argan tree, native to Morocco, argan oil is valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and medicinal properties. Now an endangered and protected tree, it is extremely well adapted to drought and other environmentally difficult conditions of south-western Morocco. Argan oil has been used by the locals of Morocco for centuries for its traditional quality of a food supplement, best known for its nutritional value of Vitamin E and some essential fatty acids.
It is also said to have restorative and age-defying properties, making it one of the most helpful anti-aging cosmetics in the oil-based product industry. It is also said to relieve or act as a remedy for skin problems such as acne, psoriasis, eczema acne and even wrinkles owing to its vitamin and mineral content.

What: Caciocavallo Podolico cheese
Where: Italy
Why: Drawing its name from the Podolico cows, the only breed native to southern Italy, the Caciocavallo Podolico cheese is not only the rarest, but also the most expensive in the world. It is the only cheese in Italy which cannot be industrially produced. Podolico cows—free range cattle that roam the woods and forests of the Lucanian Mountains—only provide milk in May and June, thus making the processing of Polodico cheese very labour-intensive. The cows’ mountain diet of nettles, blueberries, rosehips, hawthorn, cornelian cherries, juniper and wild strawberries can also be tasted in this cheese. Only one kilo of Caciocavallo Podolico is produced in comparison to million kilos of mozzarella cheese that is produced in the south of Italy.

What: Saffron
Where: India
Why: Being the costliest spice in the world, the demand for good quality saffron is fairly high. The much coveted Kashmiri ‘mongra’ or ‘lacha’ saffron is among the most difficult to obtain. This dark maroon-purple coloured saffron is probably the darkest variant in the world, suggesting intense flavour and aroma. In Kashmir, it is only the karevas of Pampore and the Kishtwar valley in Jammu province that provide the suitable climate for the growth of this rare spice. This region prominently uses saffron for their Saffron Kahwa; a traditional beverage that marks all celebratory occasions.

—Expert inputs bys Chef Clinton Cooper, Executive Chef, Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai

*These pictures are for representational purposes only.

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