Jamon Iberico is the best, most luxurious Iberian cured ham. It comes from the Iberian pig and to be given the title Jamon Iberico the pig must be at least 50% pure breed Iberian to warrant this name.
The breeding of these pigs take places under close observation. The animals are free to roam pasture land dotted with acorn trees where they have a peaceful contented life while in the last stages of fattening up on these natural acorns from the holm oak and cork oak trees.
The south-western part of Spain mainly Huelva province, where you’ll find the town of Jabugo, as well as spilling over the regional border into Extremadura produces more than anywhere else in Spain. There is a now a route – The Jabugo Route where you can see the production of this very special jamon.
The Jabugo Route
In this area of Spain, which also borders with Portugal, we have to thank the natural pasture land in the areas Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche and Cuencas Mineras most of which is Natural Park and World Biosphere Reserve. This is where the majority of the Iberian Pigs are bred and where the best jamon comes from.
Without this natural habitat enabling the breeding of these special pigs we wouldn’t have the luxurious melt-in-the-mouth Jamon Iberico. This wild habitat with indigenous trees and its pure mountain air is perfect not only for the breeding but also for the natural air drying methods used to produce the best Spanish cured ham – Jabugo Jamon.
The drying process of jamon is very slow and time consuming. It’s one of the very few things in our modern instant world that hasn’t changed. The jamons are hung to dry and that process can take from 8 – 36 months depending on the breed, the size, the acorns eaten and the quality of jamon desired. Rather like a good wine, maturing takes time.
First the jamons are salted in a special cold salt chamber, again it depends on the weight of the leg as to the time it needs salting. Usually it’s around one day per kilo at 1° – 5°c with 80 – 90% humidity.
Then all traces of salt are removed by washing and they are left to hang for 40 to 45 days in a cool and moist environment so the salt is distributed through the meat. Then comes the maturing stage where the ham must be aged in cellar for at least 18 months.
Both the drying and maturing of these jamons that have the DO (denomination of origin) are carried out while taking advantage of the micro-climate found in Sierra de Huelva. These drying and storage areas are natural, and the moisture and temperature conditions are not be controlled by artificial means otherwise they cannot carry the prestigious label Jamon Iberico, but even then there are different categories.
Jamon Iberico de Bellota
Jamon Iberico de Bellota is obtained from Iberian pigs that have been fed in the meadows with acorns and other natural products. Because of the exercise they have roaming around in the pasture, their diet based on acorns and their unique ability to infiltrate fat into the muscle, the result obtained is a very flavoursome, moist Jamon.
Jamon Iberico de Cebo de Campo
This comes from the pigs fed from the pasture – herbs and fodder, but not acorns. Although if the acorn harvest has been abundant some may have been eaten during foraging.
Jamon Iberico de Cebo
This jamon is the one produced from pigs “fattened” with feed. They haven’t eaten acorns or had the final pasturing.
All of these are from Iberian pigs so produce Jamon Iberico, only those which have eaten acorns produce Iberico de Bellota. If they are also purebred (100% Iberian) and they are 100% acorn-fed they are also called Jamón Pata Negra.
The final price of the jamons depends on how the pigs are fed, it does not cost as much to raise them in the pastureland as it does on farms so Jamon Bellota is more expensive than Jamon Iberico de Cebo but this does not mean that it is better, it just means that it is more juicy and has cost more to produce.
The photos are from my visit to Jamones Eiriz in Corteconcepcion, Huelva – they do visits that includes seeing the pigs in pasture, the drying rooms and finally tastings. They also have a shop that is open to the public. See Guided Tours at Jamones Eiriz.
Read about my trip Tasty Andalucia blog trip on my Andalucia Explorer blog – Olive Oil, Wine and Food Tour Around Cadiz, Cordoba, Huelva & Seville In Andalucia or Visit & Wine Tasting Bodegas Hidalgo – La Gitana, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Cadiz post here on Luxury Spain Travel.