Mon, Feb 04, 2019 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Women enter the select male world of Spanish ham cutters hailed as ‘stars’

AFP, MADRID

In Spain, cutting jamon is a fully fledged job that brings prestige and money, a man’s world that women are only just starting to take on.

High-level cutters of the country’s world-famous dry-cured ham legs, which can fetch 3,000 euros (US$3,437) in markets like China, are employed by top restaurants, at weddings or glitzy events.

However, women are still a rarity among these “rock stars” of the ham sector.

Puri Garabaya, 31, was the first so-called cortadora (cutter) to take part in the final of the Spanish Championships for Jamon Cutters in southern Jabugo last weekend.

She did not win, but told reporters before the competition that her presence was crucial “for all women who can now say: ‘Look, we too can get there.’”

For this select group, cutting ham is an art, the slices so thin they are near transparent, among other techniques.

“For a cortador to become a master, he must be capable of transforming the cutting process into sensations, into harmony and emotions,” Florencio Sanchidrian said.

A well-known cortador, Sanchidrian has cut jamon for the likes of actors Robert de Niro and Al Pacino, Pope John Paul II, the Spanish king and former US president Barack Obama.

He has earned 3,500 euros for just one cutting session, “sometimes more.”

“We’re a little like rock stars, each of us has their own reputation,” said Raquel Acosta, another cortadora — the “a” at the end indicating the feminine classification of the noun as opposed to cortador for a man.

Aged 27, Acosta is a pioneer in this very masculine world along with Garabaya.

She started off in a jamon store in the western city of Salamanca.

At the time, “I didn’t know of any woman who had taken part in a competition,” she said. “You didn’t even hear the word cortadora. If you looked it up on Google, you came up with a machine that cuts ham.”

Now, though, she has traveled to Berlin, Paris, Marseille and London to promote Iberian ham, an opportunity that would have been “unimaginable” before.

Still, she said there are very few women who work at that level, between five and 10.

“Women were forced to work harder to enter this world,” said Manuel Pradas, an adviser to cortadores in Barcelona and an expert on the sector.

He said ham was “long cut in a rudimentary manner,” a reflection of the Spain of the past that was “more chauvinistic.”

However, at the turn of the century emerged “a new image of the cortador who has studied all the different cutting techniques” and focuses more on presentation in a bid to give the job more prestige, he added.

This new image has allowed women — who say they cut ham with more “finesse” than their male counterparts — to enter the ham cutters’ world.

Social media also contributed to bettering the visibility of cortadoras, said Miriam Lopez, founder of the blog Jamon Lovers.

With 11,000 followers on her Instagram account, Raquel Acosta is “the most famous,” Lopez said.

“Raquel is an example,” said Luz Maria Zamorano, 35, who in her three years as a cortadora has cut about 2,000 ham legs.

“It’s a masculine world, but I believed that you could bring a feminine touch,” she said.

At a time when women’s rights are more than ever on the agenda, jamon producers, hotels and television channels are banking on this.

Pradas manages in Barcelona a team of 25 cortadores that includes seven women, who bring “freshness” to the group, he said.

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