21 nov

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Ten of the World’s Rarest Gemstones
Ten of the World’s Strangest Gemstones & Minerals
World’s Rarest Things
World’s Rarest Metals
And here’s some super-rare CHEESE

Holy Grails

You could also call these selected items nonpareils or classical exemplars. Naturally some are rare if not priceless; but they range all the way down to a few bucks so feel free to get out your wish list. Here it’s more a combination of significance and romance than monetary value. And unlike the Holy Grail[s] of song and fame their existence is, or at the very least was, undisputed.


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Jamón ibérico de bellota

 Ambrosia Flora & Fauna

Pata Negra
May I help you?
Might this be the ham that never saw a church potluck?

In the southern and southwestern parts of Spain you’ll find the black Iberian pig or pata negra. It’s relatively small and slow-maturing (for a pig, anyway), characterized by its ebony hooves and an enviable talent for growing tasty ribbons of fat between its muscle fibers. The breed goes back a thousand years and appears to have descended from a hybridization between domestic pigs the Phoenicians introduced during the Bronze Age and wild boars.

Anything sold as jamón ibérico must come from a free range pig of at least 75% pata negra gene stock. Ideally these sweethearts are raised on barley and maize for their first couple of months and thereafter left to roam freely and forage for acorns. They can be fattened later on with grain, but compromising their montañera diet like that will dilute the unique flavor and texture that the region’s acorns — holm, gall and cork oak, mainly — impart to their meat.

They stack the hams under layers of salt for 14 days to dehydrate them and then dry-cure them for 12 to 48 months in sheds high up in the mountains. However sinful its flavor may be, the meat’s fat portion is largely monounsaturated like olive oil. This means you can enjoy it with a clear conscience, both in terms of being kind to your arteries and of encouraging humane animal husbandry.

All that tranquil puttering about in oak groves and curing sheds isn’t terribly cost-effective, of course, so the end product will set you back. North Americans seeking USDA-approved jamón ibérico from specialty food importers like Markeys will need to fork over $90 or so per pound (typically $900 for a whole ham) depending on the donor pig’s acorn history, though the 2009 Christmas season left Spain with a rare glut of ibérico along with lesser jamones that they were forced to unload at deep discounts and even in some cases give out free as promotions.


 Flora & Fauna Science Club

Teosinte (genus Zea)
US Department of Agriculture
Maize or corn as we know it doesn’t exist in the wild and never did. In fact, if all the world’s corn farmers decided to desert their crops tomorrow and let them fend for themselves, the species would eventually vanish because it can’t self-propagate.

There are several wild grasses native to Mexico and Central America collectively referred to as teosinte [tay-o-SEEN-tay]. Their finger-sized ears bear a single row of tough-skinned kernels which you can either feed to livestock or grind into flour. At a high enough temperature some will even pop like popcorn.

We’ve come to understand that sometime around 12,000 years ago the locals began to cultivate teosinte and over several millennia of selective breeding developed hundreds of varieties of maize — or what the first visiting Europeans called Indian corn to distinguish it from the other cereal grains (“corn”) they were already familiar with.

Teosinte is now rare and endangered. One species, Zea nicaraguensis, exists confined to a single plot of around 6000 plants. The Mexican and Nicaraguan governments keep all teosinte under protection, though it’s available to qualified agronomists for analysis and experimentation.

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