The Iberian pig is a Spanish gourmet delicacy, a local tapas that all (if not, most) Spaniards are grown up to adore.
It is as rare as it is expensive, due to the lengthy and costly production process. Some may confuse Serrano ham as Spain’s delicacy, but no no, that’s all wrong.
If you’re a vegetarian, we suggest you don’t read any further — this is about to get meaty…
Iberian pigs are a semi-domesticated breed which have adjusted best to the Spanish climate, a breed that dates back to the 16th century. Jamón ibérico pigs, that have also become known as pata negra (‘black trotters’) live in Dehesa, located in Extremadura, a forested area plenty or stone oaks and cork trees.
These selective (but delicious) pigs mainly live in Extremadura, but sometimes extend to Castile and Andalucia. These pigs are tough and can go days with little to eat — but that does not stop them from developing lots of fatty tissue, which then turns into some delicious Jamón ibérico, perfectly balanced delicate jamón with savory fat — right to your plate. It’s scrumptiously good, we assure you. Doesn’t this image just make your mouth water?
The meat is a deep red color and develops an intensely nutty flavor at room temperature. This is because of the acorns that the pigs are fed, with soft (and delicately savory) fat around the meat that yields smoothly when pressed with the fingers. This type of fat is no means harmful, quite the opposite.
There is a great art in the cutting of Iberian ham, it’s somewhat a ritual act. Many times in tapas bars and restaurants guests must wait for the chef, or designated ham cutter to do it, for it is not anyone who has the skill to cut this precious meat.
In Extremadura and Castile there are often competitions to find the best meat cutter. We’re telling you, this is serious meat.
If you are thinking about purchasing some exquisit Iberican ham, the best thing to do is store it first, not cut it or serve it straight away. For three months your iberian leg must but be sotred in a cool place, but not refrigerated (that kills the taste and poignant delicate flavors). A ‘jamonera’ is used to cut the ham, a special piece of metal or wooden equipment that you rest the leg on. However, if you’re eager and want to cut and serve your leg, we suggest you position your trotter with the leg facing up, easier to make the correct movement of the knife when cutting extra thin delicate pieces of jamón ibérico.
Types and qualities of Jamon Ibérico
Pigs of at least 75 % Iberian by breed, and fed exclusively acorns and vegetation under free-range conditions. This is the finest Iberian ham you can get.
Iberian pigs fortunate enough to have been fed grains on the final fattening process (before they get served on your plate, that is)
Also known as ‘Cebo’ or ‘Campo’, this grade of Iberian pigs have been fattened exclusively on grain.
Preparation on Jamón Ibérico
Pigs are slaughtered in the winter season at approximately 14 or 18 months of age. For a Iberian pig to be named ‘pata negra’ it comes down to what it eats and the climate it lives in. Depending on the location of where the pig is brought up, in Andalusia a ham with an almost legendary status is produced in Jabugo, in Sierra de Aracena. After slaughter, the rear legs of pigs are cut into a V-shape and drained of blood. All mountainous areas, where there is plenty of fresh air are very suitable for drying fine hams in open air.