Spanish ham joins French cheese on U.S. blacklist

First George W. Bush tripled the duty on Roquefort cheese as a farewell gesture to France. Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture has doubled it for jamon iberico, a prized ham which comes with the leg bone still inside. What's more, the hams will have to be sold without a black hoof attached, their defining characteristic.

I won't pretend to understand why it's so important that the hoof be included, but apparently it's VERY important:

There was a scandal in Madrid 9 or 10 years ago when a company was caught painting the hooves on its white Serrano hams black in order to pass them off as the far more valuable Iberico Pata Negra. Apparently, some of the paint finally rubbed off on an unsuspecting shopper and there was public outrage.

The newspapers followed the story, chronicling the plight of the duped ham lovers and the evil doers who had sold them a faux Ibérico ham with a painted hoof. The government finally intervened, and the populace was calmed. Even today, you can spot the occasional ham shopper in Spain rubbing the hoof to make sure that its color is natural.

U.S. afficionados apparently paid up to $200 per ham and waited up to seven years for them to become available. Could this all be a massive government experiment to see how much Americans will pay for snooty European food products?

Financial tips aren't usually our thing here at Passport. But in today's wintry economic climate, stockpiling blood sausage, escargot, and Nutella is starting to seem like a sound strategy.



Gaza exporting flowers for Valentine's Day

Gaza will ship its first exports in over a year this week. Israel has agreed to a temporary lifting of its blockade on the territory so that flower-growers can ship 25,000 carnations to Europe in time for Valentine's Day at the request of the Dutch government. For the head of Gaza's flower growers association, the gesture is too little too late:

Mr Khalil said Gaza used to export as many as 40 million flowers a year, so he dismissed the shipment of 25,000 carnations as "insignificant".

"We had to feed the flowers to the animals because we couldn't export them," he said.

"We are afraid of losing our reputation in Europe and are afraid to plan ahead."

For more on the miracle of globalization that is the international flower industry, check out Amy Stewart's 2007 FP article, "Flower Power."