Everything You Need to Know About Spanish Ham – Part 2

Published : 05/10/2018 19:42:54
Categories : Eatapas & more , Eatapas News

Love the taste of authentic Spanish produce?
If the first instalment in our guide to everything you need to know about Spanish ham wasn’t enough, we’re here to satisfy you’re hunger for knowledge!
Previously, we addressed the main differences between Serrano and Ibérico ham. We discovered that breed, feeding and farming system clearly differentiate these two products.
In this next instalment, we’ll be focusing solely on one of Spain’s most popular products: Ibérico Ham.
What does Ibérico stands for? Why is Ibérico ham so expensive? What should you look for when buying this product?

Here's everything you need to know about Spanish ham part 2.

What is Ibérico Ham?

Ibérico ham is a type of cured Spanish ham, famous for its melt-in-your-mouth texture.
The beauty of this product is that it pairs perfectly with many different products. While it can be enjoyed on its own, it tastes delicious when placed on top of some tomato rubbed bread or paired with a glass of red wine.

What Makes Ibérico Ham Unique?

Dehesa, Bellota and Ibérico. These are the three magic words behind one of the most spectacular gastronomic products in the world: Ibérico Ham.
But, what do they actually mean? Here’s a closer look:

  • Dehesa is the natural Spanish environment where pigs are allowed to roam freely and graze in their familiar habitat.
  • Bellota is the Spanish word for acorn, which the pigs are fed on.
  • Ibérico is the Spanish indigenous pig breed.

The combination of these three characteristics, along with the mastery of local breeders and farmers, makes Ibérico ham a unique and distinguished product.
Ibérico ham is made from the hind leg of the black-hoofed Ibérico pigs. This native Spanish breed is characterised by its lack of hair, dark colour, round body and slim legs.

What Gives Ibérico Ham its Flavour?

The most flavourful and healthy Ibérico hams have a lot to do with how the pigs are reared.
What really makes the difference in terms of quality is the feeding and living conditions. Here’s where “Bellota” and “Dehesa” jump into the equation.
Dehesa is a stunning ecosystem, spread over Central and Southern Spain, densely dotted with holm and cork oak trees. It’s where Ibérico pigs are reared and fed on acorns, grass and cereals.

The Rearing of Ibérico Pigs

The pigs’ intense physical exercise and the nutritional properties of acorns cause the distinctive pure white marbling between the muscles of Ibérico ham.
This fat keeps the meat tender, juicy and flavourful, as well as being rich with the oleic acid contained in acorns. Oleic acid is the monounsaturated fatty acid contained in Extra Virgin olive oil and its health benefits are well documented.
This is why the highest quality Ibérico ham, contrary to what is commonly said about pork meat, is extremely healthy.
However, not all Ibérico hams are made from purebred, free-range Ibérico pigs fed on acorns. This is why you’ll find a confusing broad range of commercial names in the market as well as all sort of prices.

Ibérico Ham Quality Marks

In 2014, a regulation was approved in Spain to classify Ibérico ham and force producers to label their products in such a way that consumers are aware of what they’re buying.
Going from highest to lowest quality, these are the seals and names you should find on your ham leg or sliced ham package:

  1. Jamón de Bellota Ibérico 100% - Black label. This ham is made from purebred Ibérico pigs fed exclusively on acorns, which means that they are allowed to roam freely in the Dehesa for long periods of time. This is the only Ibérico Ham that can be named and sold as PATA NEGRA.

  2. Jamón de Bellota Ibérico – Red label. This label means the ham is made from Iberian pigs crossed with white Duroc pigs. Pigs can be either 75% or 50% Iberian breed and the percentage must be clearly stated on the package. Pigs are allowed to roam freely in the Dehesa for a period of roughly 60 days, during which they feed on acorns. The rest of their time is spent in the farm where they are fed on cereals and legumes.

  3. Jamón de Cebo de Campo Ibérico – Green label. This ham is made from pigs whose percentage of Ibérico breed is no less than 50%. Even though these pigs are still free range, they are not reared in the Dehesa and their feeding consists mainly of grains and grass.

  4. Jamón de Cebo Ibérico – White label. This label means the ham is produced in intensive pig farms where animals are fed on grains and legumes.

How These Labels Make a Difference

All these different kinds of Ibérico ham can be excellent, particularly when they are produced by companies that are proved to be trustworthy and have high standards.
However, by tasting all of them at the same time you will be able to notice the differences. A pig’s diet and the rearing process is important when it comes to flavour!
Since there’s a considerable price difference between the best Pata Negra and Jamón de Cebo Ibérico, you may want to buy one or the other depending on the occasion.

From a certain perspective, jamón Ibérico is like wine: if you want to enjoy the best Pata Negra, you must be ready to spend more, so perhaps set it aside for special occasions.
But, regardless of the type of Ibérico ham you choose, you can guarantee you’ll enjoy a great flavour. The product hasn’t earnt its popularity for no reason!

The Best Way to Enjoy Ibérico Bellota Ham

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