El Jamón de José

Madrid is a big city and moving to it might seem daunting – but if you’re not afraid of making eye contact, smiling and interacting with people, you can make your neighbourhood your home.

Before the supermarket chains invaded the barrios, people used to shop in the fruterías, carnicerías and pescaderías (fruit stores, butchers and fishmongers) but gradually, the personal service these stores could offer has been replaced by the more anonymous, if convenient, supermarket experience.

Yet some small businesses continue to survive and thrive. They can’t offer cheap deals, no “two for the price of one” because their margins are so small that in looking after the contents of your pocket, they might be digging a hole in theirs. No, these small businesses have a preferred way to get ahead of the competition: trust.

Such is the case of José Jiménez, the owner of a charcutería (a store which sells products derived from the pig) in the street of Gaztambide in Madrid. His store is very small, “es una tienda muy pequeñita” he told me, with about 20 square meters of shop floor.

I’ve known José for years, as he used to play tennis with my mother. Unbeknown to him, many keen theatre-goers in London have marvelled at the quality of his jamón. I used to run a theatre company and once a year we organised a festival of new work, where we “bribed” the audience with food. My mother used to fly in with “jamón de José” and, even if my artistic ego finds hard to admit it, José’s ham would always steal the show.

José opened his charcutería 27 years ago and he keeps it afloat by offering quality products and building relationships based on trust with both his customers and providers.

“I want people to feel at home in the store,” says José. “I want them to receive a personal service. When they get home and unpack their shopping, I want them to know they purchased exactly what they asked for.”

José specialises in productos ibéricos: jamón, lomo, salchichón and chorizo of the highest quality. If you haven’t grown up with these type of products, the range of meats and prices can be daunting.

“I am always happy to explain to foreign customers the difference between the products. As far as I know, most of them leave happy – and even phone me from abroad to place an order to pick up on their next trip to Madrid!”

A lot of different factors affect the taste and quality of the jamón ibérico, which comes from the Iberian pig. This pig has a black hoof, giving the ham its name of “pata negra”. The taste of this ham is influenced by whether the pigs’ diet consisted mainly of cereals or acorns, and if the latter was the main constituent, for how long they fed on them. This in turn influences the price at which it is sold. The only way to know the price of the ham you will enjoy the most, is to taste it.

So, if you are a fan of “pig products” and have some time in Madrid, why not pay José a visit? He’s got plenty of jamón, which he can expertly slice for you to take home. Every time I’m in Madrid, I order about 1kg of ham, packed in small in vacuo packages, al vacío, to bring back with me to London.

If you want some quality ham and you find yourself in the busy district of Arguelles, or even if you don’t mind the 20 minute walk from the Plaza de España, pop in to see José – and to get an extra special service, tell him you heard about him from Pilar.

José Jiménez, c/Gaztambide, 68, Madrid 28003 Tel. 91 441 0174
Monday – Friday 9am – 2.30pm & 5pm – 9pm.
Saturday 9am – 3pm.

Born and bred in Madrid, Pilar has lived in London all her adult life. She has just published the e-book The A to Z of Spanish Culture. Pilar works as a voiceover and learning facilitator.