In late 2015, Tavr disclosed plans to become the first Russian company to achieve industrial production of Iberian ham, when Alexander Remeta, director of the company’s meat division, revealed that Agrocom, Tavr’s parent company, had established a farm where it was breeding Black Iberian pigs.
Remeta emphasised that this was the only possible breed from which true Iberian ham could be produced and, by a lucky accident, Tavr had purchased the breeding stock before the introduction of sanctions. Black Iberian are now among live pigs which are prohibited imports to Russia.
In 2015, Tavr performed a thorough study of the technological processes applied in Spain and claimed it was now ready to fully duplicate these processes at the company’s plant.
There is one other company in Russia, headquartered in the city of Stavropol, which claims to produce Iberian ham. However, it shuns publicity, so all that is known is that it is supplying a product labelled as Iberian ham, including to dinner events organised by regional and federal authorities.
A symbol of the embargo
Meanwhile, Sergey Yushin, head of Russia’s National Meat Association stated that, for ordinary Russian citizens, the absence of Iberian ham on store shelves became “a symbol of the food embargo”, although, technically, it wasn’t even banned.
The product groups that came under the trade restrictions included all types of chilled and frozen meat and all kinds of sausages, while Iberian ham could be attributed to a different category of products, in accordance with the federal customs definition, which, together with canned meat, should not be subject to restrictions, according to Yushin.
However, Russian officials have taken a different view as, in early 2017, the country’s courts started banning websites that specialised in e-sales of Iberian ham.
Although the detail of the food embargo allowed purchases of banned products by Russians citizens “for the purposes of personal consumption”, the federal court in Ulyanovsk Oblast ruled that the operation of websites, where Iberian ham could be bought in small quantities, should be restricted “to protect the foundations of the country’s constitutional system”.
A taste of sanctions
The new project by Tavr is one in a series of similar initiatives, designed to manufacture products banned within the food embargo in Russia. However, in previous cases, when Russian companies have tried to master production of cheeses such as parmesan and brie, or popular European sausages, Russian consumers have complained about the completely different taste of these products.
In particular, one consumer protection organisation in Russia claimed that parmesan from a Russian company “tasted more like rubber, rather than Italian Parmesan”.