Jamón Ibérico is a type of Jamón, a cured ham produced only in Spain. It is at least 75% black Iberian pig, also called the Cerdo Negro or Black Pig, the only breed of pig that naturally seeks and eats mainly acorns. According to Spain’s Denominación De Origen rules on food products Jamón Ibérico may be made from cross-bred pigs as long as they are at least 75% Ibérico.
The Black Iberian Pig lives primarily in the south and southwest parts of Spain, including the provinces of Salamanca, Ciudad Real, Cáceres, Badajoz, Seville, Córdoba and Huelva. Immediately after weaning the piglets are fattened on barley and maize for several weeks. The pigs are then allowed to roam in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns, and roots, until the slaughtering time approaches. At that point the diet may be strictly limited to acorns for the best quality Jamón Ibérico, or may be a mix of acorns and commercial feed for lesser qualities. This is described in more detail below.
The hams are labeled according to the pigs’ diet, with an acorn diet being the most desirable: The finest Jamón Ibérico is called Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (acorn). This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests (called la dehesa) along the southern border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during this last period. It is also known as Jamón Iberico de Montanera. The exercise and the diet has significant impact on the flavour of the meat;
The next grade of Jamón Ibérico is called Jamón Ibérico de Recebo. This ham is from pigs that are pastured and fed a combination of acorns and grain.
The third type of Jamón Ibérico is called Jamón Ibérico de Pienso, or simply, Jamón Ibérico. This ham is from pigs that are fed only grain. The ham is cured for 24 months.
The term Pata Negra is also used to refer to Jamón Ibérico in general and may refer to any one of the above three types.
Bellota jamones are prized both for their smooth texture and rich savory taste. A good Ibérico ham has regular flecks of intramuscular fat. Because of the pig’s diet of acorns, much of the jamón’s fat is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol.
Until recently, Jamón Ibérico was not available in the U.S. (a fact referenced in the movie “Perdita Durango”, where the ham of Jabugo is praised as “illegal, but delicious”). In 2005 the fi st slaughterhouse in Spain, Embutidos y Jamones Fermin, was approved by the U.S.D.A. to produce Ibérico ham products for export to the U.S.
The hams from the slaughtered pigs are salted and left to begin drying for two weeks, after which they are rinsed and left to dry for another four to six weeks. The curing process then takes at least twelve months, although some producers cure their Jamones Ibéricos for up to 36 months.
The Ibérico hams from the town of Jabugo in the Huelva province are renowned for their consistently high quality. Practically the entire town is devoted to the production of Jamón Ibérico, where the biggest producer is 5J Sánchez Romero Carvajal; the main square is even called La plaza del Jamón (Ham Square).
Jamón Ibérico, which only accounts for about 8% of Spain’s cured-ham production, is very expensive and not widely available abroad.
Article written by Staff Correspondent, Connoisseur Magazine