Nestling below Mulhacen, at 3,285 metres (10,778 feet) the highest mountain on mainland Spain and the Iberian peninsula, is the village of Trevelez. The village, with just over 800 inhabitants, is the second highest in Spain at an altitude of 1,476 metres (4,853 feet). The highest is Valdelinares in Aragon.
Trevelez has managed to establish itself as a tourist centre based on its reputation for producing Jamon serrano. High up the valley, sheltered from the north by the bulk of Mulhacen, the air is dry. In winter very crisp and in summer very hot, ideal for air curing the back legs of the white pigs.
Julie and I visited Trevelez in June 2017 from our holiday base at Orgiva, much lower down the valley. The views from the single track road that hairpins up the mountain can only be described as remarkable and spectacular. This is part of the area known as the Alpujarras. Mountain ridges, deep valleys, raging torrents, all beneath an alpine blue sky. Before the advent of the motor vehicle Trevelez must have been one of the most isolated villages in the country.
This was actually our second visit to Trevelez, the first was back in 2003 and that had been a flying visit with just time for a coffee. We promised ourselves then that we would return and sample the local fare. To be honest, back then I did not appreciate jamon and its many manifestations.
We were fortunate to arrive in advance of the first coaches that bring the tourists in from nearby Lanjaron and slightly further afield, Granada, so we had the village to ourselves. Not much had changed, the souvenir shops were leisurely arranging displays of the colourful Alpujarran rugs and the café owners were peering out waiting for the first of the hoards to arrive. The first of the shops in this part of the village, best described as English style delicatessens, were already open. Those were new, I do not remember them on our last visit. They had a huge range of jamon, morcilla, churizzo and other cured meats that neither of us recognised together with all the other goodies that tourists buy, local honey, oils, vinegars and so on. All this is on the lower level of the village, the barrios bajo.
A steep street, lined on one side by the geranium bedecked balconies of houses partially set into the hillside, leads to the second level, the barrios medio. This is the area in which the locals do their shopping and where you will find the cafes and bars frequented by them. All the bars, local or tourist, have clusters of hams hanging from hooks in the ceiling beams dripping their juices into little plastic cups. I have never figured out whether this is a continuation of the curing process and the jamon disappears at some stage to a distributor, a sort of collective curing, or whether the bar intends to sell all the jamon on display. All I can say is that if all those jamons are for consuming within the bar the locals eat an awful lot of jamon. One last observation. The average height of a typical local must be about six inches less than my own height or they would all be head butting jamon, most disconcerting if you have a couple of drinks and forget to duck. Above the barrios medio is the barrios alto, mainly a residential area.
It’s thirsty work weaving amongst jamon so there was no argument about going for lunch. Being tourists we sat ourselves outside the bar with the best view and, incidentally, the best choice of jamon tapas. It happened to be on the lower, most expensive, level but heigh ho, you only live once.
We went for the best jamon on the menu as a tapas. It arrived, a plateful with plenty of fresh baked, warm bread dripping with olive oil. I have to admit, I did wonder if I had mistakenly ordered a racione by mistake, so did my wallet. Julie came up with a bright idea to test the theory. Place another order for a tapas the next quality down, emphasising the tapas bit, and see how much we received the second time. The second plate arrived with even more on it than the first. I had visions of doing a runner but all was well when the bill arrived. Now I know how they move all those jamon, by serving large portions. Ah, but the quality I hear you asking, was it any good? Yes, it was, very good.