Hamazing! Spanish town smashes world record for most ham-slicing

The town of Sierra de Yeguas, in Malaga, hogged the limelight on Sunday when it smashed the world record for the most people cutting ham legs at once.

Hamazing! Spanish town smashes world record for most ham-slicing
202 people cut hams at the same time, smashing the previous world record. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

The 202 participants came from all around Spain and even as far as Paris to show off their knife skills, beating the previous record of 161 ham cutters.

The cutters each had to slice at least five slivers of ham of between 0.5 and 1.5 millimetres thick in two minutes.

Ten 'ham-azing' things you really need to know about jamón

But there was more to the world record than just hamming up their cutting skills; the cutters were raising money for Manuel Correro, a local man suffering from Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue.

Locals have come together in solidarity with Correro, organizing dances, festivals and jumble sales, among many other events to help the local man since his diagnosis was made public in June.

Over €160,000 has been raised so far, according to María José García, one of the event’s organizers, who told regional newspaper Diario Sur that the money would be used to pay for Correro’s much-needed operation in Germany.

The event was organized by professional ham-cutter, or cortador, Manuel Novoa, who had been trying to break the record for three years.

A participant cutting a slice of ham. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

And while Spaniards are well-known for their love of jamón, cutting a ham leg is no easy feat. It takes years of practice to achieve the wafer-thin sliver requested by Guinness, so the record attempt attracted some of Spain’s most talented ham cutters, including Spanish champion José Manuel Hidalgo and world-record holder Noe Bonillo.

Bonillo, who holds the “ham-marathon” world record, having cut 30 hams in 30 hours, travelled from Paris to take part.

“It is an honour to participate in this act of solidarity and share it with all my colleagues,” Bonillo said, adding that he was “very proud”. 

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Women enter the select male world of Spanish ham cutters

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

Women enter the select male world of Spanish ham cutters
Photo: AFP

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

But 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 didn't win but told AFP before the competition that her presence was crucial “for all women who can now say: 'Look, we too can get there'.”

3,500 euros to cut ham

For this select group, cutting ham is an art, the slices so thin they're 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,” says Florencio Sanchidrian.

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,” jokes 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 though, “I didn't know of any woman who had taken part in a competition,” she says.

“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 travelled to Berlin, Paris, Marseille and London to promote Iberian ham, an opportunity that would have been “unimaginable” before.

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

New image

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

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

But 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 adds.

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,” according to Miriam Lopez, founder of the specialised blog Jamon Lovers.

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

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

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

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

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