Spanish ham that has been cured is a key component in Mediterranean cuisine. This is no ordinary cured meat, which usually is hard and stringy. Spanish cured ham is one of the culinary world’s most distinguished foods and has gained this recognition for good reason. It melts in your mouth with its complexity of sweet nutty flavors, due to the swine’s distinct, acorn-rich diet, a diet that is unique to cured meats.
The world-renown Iberian pig is bred primarily in Spain and its cured meat is regarded as a delicacy in many parts of the world. The ham is not meant to be cooked, it is meant to be savored along side your preferred glass or bottle of wine.
The lineage of the Iberico pig goes back centuries, in fact, it dates back to cavemen times. They are the original swine of Spain, however, they can also be found in Portugal. They are black in color with dark hooves that stay on the ham all through the curing process. Their bodies contain more fat, thus allowing the ham to be cured for longer periods of time. The legs are skinned, salted and rinsed and then sent to a cellar. The curing process takes well over a year, The result, a meat that is complex, intense and sweet in aroma and in flavor.
High quality breeding methods also add to its exquisite taste. Iberico pigs are raised without the use of chemical substances, such as hormones. Their size, breading and development cycles remain unaltered, unlike many of the meats you find in stores today. The ultimate Iberico swine feeds only on acorns and during the lengthy process of curating, the fat spreads itself evenly throughout the meat. Iberico swine have a large expanse in which to freely roam. Just about every village or small town boasts a “Dehesa” also known as a pasture, with oak trees.
These “Dehesas are a national treasure and the acorn producing oak trees, which take up around 30% of the area, have been there for centuries. Other animals feed on the surrounding grass. As the acorns fall, they become fodder for the pigs roaming the area. The pigs eat them to fatten up and it obviously helps that they truly enjoy acorns. Spanish pigs are named according to the region from where they come, and for their diet. A special note: not all Iberico swine live free in the Spanish fields. A lot of the Jamon Iberico is made from pigs that live on corn and other feed, however, it is still wonderful, as it contains that notable Iberico lineage.
To create authentic Iberico cured ham, the pig must have the acorn diet. If you are wondering what the difference is when purchasing the ham, it is usually indicated by the price. Jamon Iberico is priced lower than Jamon Iberico de Bolleta (acorn fed).
What makes a pig happier than roaming around and feasting in a field full of acorns, herbs and grass? It makes us happy as well when we savor this exquisitely marbled cured meat, that not only tastes amazing but is also rich in antioxidants.