What Is So Special About Iberico Ham?

Jamon, cheese and wine are the Holy Trinity in the cultural heritage of the Kingdom of Spain, without which it is impossible to imagine a Spaniard’s table. Jamon is a pre-salted dried pork leg. The price for Iberico ham per pound is about $150. But what is so special about Iberico ham? Why is it so expensive?

What is so special about Iberico ham? Iberico ham is so special as it is made from a unique and rare breed of black Iberian pigs that have a rich dark red color and marble veins. Iberico ham preparation requires specific spices and salt, and the process itself is carried out only subject to strict temperature limits and humidity levels.

What Makes Iberico Ham So Special?

Iberian black pigs live mainly in the south and southwest of Spain, including Salamanca, Seville. Also, this type of animal is found in southeastern Portugal.

What makes Iberico ham so special? Special conditions in which Iberian pigs live make Iberico ham so special. The piglets are fed barley, corn and are allowed to walk through the pasture and oak groves and are fed with natural herbs, acorns, roots. The pigs’ diet is strictly limited to ensure the Iberico Jamon is of the highest quality.

The production of Iberico Jamon is strictly regulated. The pedigree and the whole life of the pig from birth to slaughter are strictly controlled. Piglets are fed grain and acorns until they reach 18 months of age, after which they are allowed to walk in the forests of Dehes. But on one hectare, there cannot be more than two pigs because they must eat 7 kg acorns a day. The time for the feast begins in early October and ends in early January. During this period, the acorns ripen and fall from the trees.

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The honorable mission of becoming an Iberico Jamon falls to pigs weighing at least 160 kg. Their weight, diet and pedigree are the keys to the quality of meat. But the secret of the magical aroma of Iberico Jamon lies in the acorns. Stone oak acorns are rich in oleic acid, the same one found in olives. Therefore, the locals often call black pigs “walking olives.” In fact, Jamon is the only food that contains more oleic acid than olive oil.

The process of making Jamon is very laborious. First, the legs are cooled, then covered with a layer of Andalusian sea salt for several days. They are then washed and hung to dry for up to three years. By the color of the meat, you can always recognize the age of the pig: the meat of young animals is pinker, and the old ones have a rich ruby color.

Why Is Iberico Ham So Expensive?

Jamon Iberico is the most expensive ham produced from the hind leg of the black Iberian pig that grows in the forests of the western and southern regions of the Iberian Peninsula. The preparation period for Iberico ham is 24 months, although some farmers prefer to extend this time for another year to get a more sophisticated flavor. The delicacy is priced at a record $ 4,500 for a whole leg.

What is Iberico ham’s price per kg? Usually, in Spanish shops the average cost of Iberico jamon is about 150-250 euros per kilogram. The most expensive Jamon Iberico can cost up to 700 euros per kilogram and more. Not everyone can afford such Jamon, so the most expensive restaurants are the consumers of this product.

Why is Iberico ham so expensive? Iberico ham is prepared by unique, high-quality standards and only in the microclimate on pastures of western Spain. Iberian pigs are rare and known for uniform distribution of intramuscular fat in the meat, which creates the so-called “marbling” and makes ham delicious. 

Black pigs of the Iberian breed are 100% either crossed with pigs of white or red breed in different proportions. The taste of the meat of this ham is the most balanced and is most appreciated by lovers of dry-cured hams. The minimum drying time for Iberico Jamon (hind legs) is 500 days for a raw piece weighing less than 9.7 kg and 660 days for the rest.

The main conditions that must be met when raising Iberico pigs, in addition to the purity of the ancestral line, are:

  • Pigs must be raised on open pastures and not in pens and stalls. That is, they need movement, although hardly anyone would call them particularly playful and active.
  • The Iberian pig is obliged to feed mainly on acorns (bellota). Therefore, pastures (dehesas) for them are actually oak groves.

For the entire life span before slaughter (from birth to 24 months), the Iberian pig eats the annual acorn crop of a grove of three hectares. At the same time, pig breeders can, from time to time, change the diet, its composition, the ratio in the pork diet of various mineral elements, vitamins, etc.

How Is Jamon Iberico Made?

How is jamon iberico made? The fresh ham is cut and covered with salt for 2 weeks to draw out excess moisture and preserve the meat. Then the salt is washed off, and the ham is hung in a cool, dry place for 6 to 18 months, depending on the climate of the region and the size and type of ham.

Jamon Iberico is made from Iberian black pigs with black hooves, which is why the product is also called “Pata Negra” (“blackleg”). Such pigs are kept in free grazing and feed on acorns.

The acorn diet gives the Iberico Jamon its special, rich meaty flavor and aroma. Pigs are in constant movement in the fresh air and receive abundant nutrition. As a result, the Iberico ham becomes simultaneously more meaty and fatty, approaching in properties to marbled beef.

To experience the full taste of the Iberico ham, the ham is cut into thin strips. In Spain, there is a special technique for slicing Jamon, and the slicing specialists are called cortador. The establishments that serve Jamon are called jamoneria.

Jamon is cut on a special stand — “jamoner” (in Spanish – portajamones or soporte jamoner). Hamonera has ham support, a special shelf and screws for securing the hoof. This greatly simplifies the process since the meat is quite dense and requires effort when cutting.

Origin and History of Iberico Ham

The history of Jamon is more than two thousand years old. The Spanish ham itself enjoyed good fame on the shelves of the ancient Romans and was mentioned in the letters of such important figures of that time as the emperor Diocletianus and the military poet, historian Marcus Varro.

In those days, the preparation of ham arose for natural reasons since the main idea was to prepare meat for future use. The pigs were slaughtered in the fall, the meat was salted (since there was no better preservative than salt), and all the cold winter, these very legs hung and acquired their unique taste.

The distant ancestors of the Spaniards took with them on the road a dry-cured ham of Iberian pork, wholesome and nutritious. Moreover, it was stored for a long time. It is believed that Christopher Columbus was able to discover America also because he was able to provide his expedition with products, among which Jamon, unpretentious to storage conditions, was the basis of the nutrition.

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