In this month’s issue of SAVEUR, a gourmet and travel magazine that includes essays about various world cuisines, travel writer Melissa Klurman discusses the trials and tribulations of smuggling contraband in the form of food, across international borders.
In Melissa’s case, the black-market item was a shrink-wrapped prosciutto — Italian salt-cured ham — for her father purchased from a butcher in Rome.
Melissa claimed nearly every traveler she chatted with had their own stylized rendition of the classic hidden suitcase ham, despite their confessed, collective ignorance regarding the existence of any real crime for attempting to bring foreign ham through customs.
Aside form her own personal adventure, Melissa presents readers with two episodes people shared with her. Since none of her sources provided their real names, Melissa used initials only.
1) “AG, a South African who works in international public relations says that when she’s spending time in the States, she misses biltongSouth African beef jerkyalmost as much as she misses her family. All visits to her native Pretoria begin with a trip to the butcher who double-vacuum-seals his prized meat snacks for her.
“Then her mother, a willing accomplice, puts the biltong in gift-wrapped boxes with diversionary notes that say things like ‘Don’t Open Until Christmas’ or ‘For Your Birthday, No Peeking!’ ‘That way,’ AG admits, ‘if I get caught with a shirt-box full of meat, I can feign ignorance.'”
2) “LS, a native of Italy, has a multi-pronged plan of attack to get his beloved salumis back home with him. His first step, like AG’s, is the vacuum sealer (invaluable to all ham aficionados without borders).
“Then there’s the elaborate packing: First the meat is ensconced in socks, then camouflaged in layers of clothing and jackets, striated like a lovingly prepared lasagna so that prying X-rays won’t be able to pick out the salumi’s oblong shape among the intricate layers of clothing.”
In both cases, their smuggling ruse was successful, (which is by no means an endorsement). But Melissa says not all vacuumed sealed meat gets past one of their meat-seeking beagles.
“Then I noticed that headed my way to say hello was an adorable beagle with floppy ears, droopy eyes, an official Customs badge, and a stern-looking Customs Agent handler.”
Melissa wrapped her cured pork in deep layers of newly-acquired merino sweaters, and boarded the plane with her fingers crossed, and yes, she pulled it off.
“Maybe it was the rotting banana peel or the leaking bottle of olive oil in my bag that threw the beagle off the scent,” she wrote.
“Maybe it was an inadvertently popped button on my blouse that distracted the Customs Agent’s attention. Either way, I got it back in. And it was delicious.”