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Jamón ibérico

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Jamón ibérico

Jamón ibérico (Spanish: ; "Iberian ham", also called pata negra ; "black hoof") is a type of cured ham produced in Spain. According to Spain's Denominación de Origen rules on food products, jamón ibérico may be made from black Iberian pigs, or cross-bred pigs as long as they are at least 50% ibérico.

Production

BEHER Guijuelo "Bellota Oro" was elected as "Best ham in the world" at the IFFA Delicat in 2007 and 2010.
Common way of storing jamones ibéricos

The black Iberian pig lives primarily in western and southwestern Spain, including the provinces of Salamanca, Ciudad Real, Cáceres, Badajoz, Seville, Córdoba (Protected Denomination of Origin Valle de Los Pedroches) and Huelva (Denomination of Origin Huelva). It also lives in central and southern Portugal, where it is referred to as porco preto ibérico or porco alentejano.

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 olives or acorns for the best quality jamón ibérico, or may be a mix of acorns and commercial feed for lesser qualities.

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 48 months.

In particular, the ibérico hams from the towns of Guijuelo in the Salamanca province and Jabugo in the Huelva province have their own Denominación de Origen. Almost the entire town of Jabugo is devoted to the production of jamón ibérico; the biggest producer is 5J Sánchez Romero Carvajal. The town's main square is called La plaza del Jamón.

Types and characteristics

Jamón ibérico on a jamonera.
Slicing jamón.

The hams are labeled according to the pigs' diet, with an acorn diet being most desirable:

  • The finest is called jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn). This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests (called dehesas) along the border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during this last period. It is also known as jamón ibérico de Montanera. The exercise and diet have a significant impact on the flavor of the meat; the ham is cured for 36 months.
  • The next grade is called jamón ibérico cebo de campo. This ham is from pigs that are pastured and fed a combination of acorns and grain.
  • The third type is called jamón ibérico de cebo, or simply, jamón ibérico. This ham is from pigs that are fed only grain. The ham is cured for 24 months.

Additionally, the word puro (pure, referring to the breed) can be added to the previous qualities when both the father and mother of the slaughtered animal are of pure breed and duly registered on the pedigree books held by official breeders.

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. The term refers to the color of the pigs' nails, which are white in most traditional pork (Sus domesticus) breeds, but black for the Black Iberian breed. While as a general rule, a black nail should indicate an Ibérico ham, there are cases of counterfeits, with the nails being manually painted.

Jamones de bellota are prized both for their smooth texture and rich, savory taste. A good ibérico ham has regular flecks of intramuscular fat (marbling).

The fat content is relatively high compared to jamón serrano, thus giving a rich taste.

Availability in the United States

Until 2007, jamón ibérico was not available in the United States (a fact referenced in the movie Perdita Durango, where the ham of Jabugo is praised as "illegal, but delicious").

Prior to 2005, only pigs raised and slaughtered outside of Spain were allowed to be processed in Spain for export to the United States. In 2005, the first slaughterhouse in Spain, Embutidos y Jamones Fermín, S.L. (Salamanca), was approved by the United States Department of Agriculture to produce ibérico ham products for export to the United States.


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