Before sunrise one eventful summer morning, a double-decker 18-wheeler pulled into a sprawling ranch north of Calistoga, completing its 2,500-mile journey from Florida ferrying a precious and unique cargo.
When the ramp descended, out waddled one black pig, which sniffed around curiously before 79 others disembarked. It wasn’t long before they all zeroed in on one especially majestic, acorn-laden oak tree and plopped themselves under it contentedly.
That marked the christening of Encina Farms of Middletown (Lake County), the first and only commercial farm in California raising Iberian pigs. The prized black-footed, acorn-devouring pigs are a breed native to Spain and produce what connoisseurs consider the finest ham in the world. If all goes according to plan, Encina will become the first local producer of jamon Iberico, which can command $40 for a mere 3 ounces and is traditionally enjoyed in paper-thin slices to let its decadent fat melt on the palate.
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