What’s your favourite food? When travelling across the Iberian Peninsula there’s not much to beat the wafer-thin, supremely scrumptious jamón ibérico (Spain), or presunto ibérico (Portugal). These cured hams from the regions’ organically raised black pigs are produced using traditional farming methods which enhance the pigs’ lifestyles as well as enriching the final product.
Indeed as the confusion surrounding all things BREXIT begins to clear, and issues such as good farming practice and animal husbandry become more relevant, the likes of Jamón ibérico will become ever more appreciated.
Monitored, cared for and well farmed from birth, black Iberian piglets are fattened on maize and barley before being let loose on the natural pastures of central Spain and Portugal. Eating a rich organic diet of acorns, chestnuts, herbs and grasses, the pigs enjoy a final diet of olives, acorns and well tested commercial feeds, further enriching the flavour.
Coming from the central provinces of Spain, Badajoz (Extremadura), Córdoba, Huelva, Salamanca, Seville, Ciudad Real and central and southern regions of Portugal (including the Alentejo), the tradition of Ibérian jamón runs deep through local society with many an annual celebration, festival and food frenzy underpinning local culture and way of life. With, for example, whole towns and villages integrally linked to the production of Jamón ibérico.
The ham’s soft, smooth texture, rich taste and lean content is famous the world over. I love it, and make sure that whenever travelling, or at home, I am stocked with some of my favourites. With special spoilings coming directly from the family farm of friends of ours in Extremadura.
Certainly, my eyes have often proved bigger than my stomach when it comes to ordering – so, my advice is make sure you have a humdinger of a party in the making, as well as all-important sharp knife if you are ordering a whole leg of jamón.
Be aware that you may have to order early too, as even though Spain produces over 40 million hams annually, the steep rise in interest in the Chinese market for this most special of Iberian foods means global demand is set to far outstrip supply in the near future.
Choosing which to purchase should be combined with many a tasting session. There are four grades of ham, categorised by the pigs’ diet and length of ham processing. With the best benefitting from a four-year maturing, and the least a one-year hanging.
Jamón ibérico de Bellota (acorn diet, aged for at least 3 years)
Jamón ibérico de Racebo (combination acorn diet and aged for at least 3 years
Jamón ibérico Cebo de Campo (free range, but with cereal based diet)
Jamón ibérico de Cabo (reared commercially with cereal based diet)