When you actually get to witness all the work that goes into the production of Iberian ham – jamón ibérico – you get a totally new appreciation for this iconic cured delicacy that Spain is so famous for.
I was, of course, so fascinated with the subject, that José and I took a trip to the birthplace of the best jamón – the province of Huelva. I wanted to meet the delicious piggies and get a first hand account of the production process.
Jamones Eíriz – Iberian Ham Factory
We went on a tour with Jamones Eíriz – an Iberian ham factory located not far from the famous jamón ibérico’s powerhouse town of Jabugo. A tour that I can’t recommend enough.
This factory and its dehesa (the large pastures available to the black piggies) are located in a tiny town in the province of Huelva – Spain’s part of the black pig habitat shared with Portugal.
Here’s the main square of the town. Note the stork’s nest perched on the top of the church. Could it be more adorable?
The Iberian Pig
If you compare the Iberian pig with the regular farm pig, what stands out is that the Iberian pig’s legs are thinner, more gracious. Its snout is also longer (one of the vestiges of the wild boar).
In order to qualify as jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn fed Iberian ham) the black Iberian piggies of various breed purity must have at their disposal 1 Ha (2.34 Acres) of land each.
From October through February they get to munch on acorns that fall from the evergreen oaks in dehesa. Which means they move around a lot. Which in turn favors distribution of fat in the muscles – makes the meat marvellously marbled.
After dry curing for many many months (the top quality ham is cured for about 48 months), the ham is cleaned up from the mold and is ready to enter the market.
Jamón is made of the hind leg only and it’s the most expensive part of the pig (the acorn fed classification (de bellota) is sealed with a black label, as of 2018 – obligatorily. See the Infographics below).
The front leg is used for paletilla – a slightly less expensive leg than jamón. The rest of the Iberian pig serves to produce premium chorizo, salchichón, lomo and other cured products.
Iberian Ham Tasting
At the end of the tour our guides set the table and we set for the much desired tasting of the best ham.
After walking around the heavenly smell of cured meats all morning we were hungry to say the least.
The platters of the oily and nutty goodness kept coming. While we were being plied with jamón we sipped on a nice local dry white wine to accompany the tasting. It was perfect. I find it that reds, however light, are too overpowering for the tender acorn fed delicacy.
Iberian ham is one of Spain’s unique treasures. And I must admit, whenever I share the facts on jamón with the guests on my tours before serving the best ham, I enjoy immensely the moment of realization they experience… The realization of how extraordinary and special what they are about to taste is. Their eyes sparkle.
Below is an Infographics that I have created to capture the classification of Spanish cured hams.
I hope that next time you order a plate of jamón in Spain, you will know which one you are about to consume! (You can save it as an image or Pin it on Pinterest for future use).
What has your experience been like with Spanish cured ham so far?